Personal atrocities: Into The Numbers @finborough
Into the Numbers is a haunting exploration into the mind of writer Iris Chang and her struggle with success and demons. Written by Christopher Chen, it’s having its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre.
Iris Chang wrote a best selling book about the massacre of 300,000 civilians in Nanking at the hands of Japanese soldiers. The book, The Rape of Nanking, describes in graphic detail the way in which people were brutally murdered. Including an estimated 80,000 women and young girls were raped. Seven years later, Chang would kill herself at the age of 36, leaving a suicide note that was meticulously edited and rewritten.
What’s fascinating about the piece is how Chen uses fragments from her personal and professional life to explain why this happened. In doing so, he not only explores the subject matter but also gets beneath the surface of mental illness.
Opening as a lecture and an interview with Chang, the piece sets the scene and recounts facts from the book. But things begins to warp as victims and perpetrators of the crimes come to life. The interviewer becomes her husband and then her doctor. Evil becomes all-pervasive and relentless and death seems to be the only solution for quiet solitude.
As Iris Chang, Elizabeth Chan is heartbreaking. At first she is the confident self-assured presenter but soon she crumbles into a person struggling to see the point of life. Clinging to a list of everyday things to remind her of the reasons to get up everyday. None of which include writing another bestseller.
Timothy Knightley deftly moves between the three characters of interviewer, husband and doctor. Amy Molly delivers a powerful performance as Minnie Vautrin. Vautrin was an American missionary who saw the atrocities first hand. She would return back to American and commit suicide. Mark Ota is chilling as the indifferent Japanese deputy ambassador and a soldier on the ground.
There’s a dreamlike yet heartbreaking quality to this production. The sets and costumes are by Isabella Van Braeckel and lighting by Matt Cater. It’s a beautiful attempt to explain the inexplicable.
Directed by Georgie Staight, Into The Numbers is at the Finborough until 27 January.
Photos by Scott Rylander