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The Mistake review (Canterbury Festival)

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One of my favourite things about the Canterbury Festival is the variety of the programme. So far I have seen an immersive art display, a comedy musical act and last night I headed back to The Great Hall at Kent College for The Mistake: a poignant play about World War II and the atomic bomb, which was performed for one night only. Currently touring venues across the UK, the play is one of the theatre productions at this year’s festival, combining new writing with accounts from Hiroshima survivors and the scientists involved. In a year where Oppenheimer is one of the biggest cinematic releases, it is an incredibly poignant time for such a play to be touring, providing insights into historic warfare.

The Mistake leaflet in front of a Canterbury Festival banner

Theatre with impact

Written by and starring Michael Mears, this one-act, multi-role play reflects on the events preceding the attack on Hiroshima, the day of the bombing and the aftermath, considering all parties involved. With direction by Rosamunde Hutt, the material is harrowing and thought provoking, encouraging members of the audience to reflect on the past and understand what happened from various perspectives.

A complex structure

The play runs for 90 minutes without an interval, covering two parallel narratives: the first focusing on the scientists and military personnel that contributed to the research and development of the atomic bomb and the other highlighting the atrocities of the event for survivor Nomura Shigeko (played by Riko Nakazono). It is extremely full on and quite difficult to watch at times, specifically the coverage of the morning of 6th August 1945. Hutt tricks the audience into believing the illusion that it is a normal day of school and work for the residents of the Japanese city, realistically showcasing the pure shock of the events that followed.

The Mistake programme inside The Great Hall at Kent College, Canterbury Festival

Disjointed timelines

The material jumps between daily life in Japan and the early work of nuclear physicists, specifically Leo Szilard who escaped Nazi Germany and worked on chain reaction research in the USA. Other prominent figures that are portrayed include Albert Einstein, President F. D. Roosevelt, Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer, alongside pilot of the ‘Enola Gay’ General Paul Tibbets (all played by Mears).

Whilst the past and Szilard’s early life are easy to follow, the stark transitions between timelines makes the work feel disjointed in places. There are moments where the horrors of the event blur with Szilard’s nightmares and I struggled to understand how much of these sections are a dream and how much is the merging of two ‘real’ storylines. There are also sharp cuts to the future with Paul Tibbets being interviewed about remorse and regret and whilst important sections, they too contributed to the slightly jarring flow. The play could benefit from greater clarity in the past, present and future sections, reducing the confusion around the direction of the material.

The Mistake flyer inside The Great Hall as part of the Canterbury Festival

Lighting and set design

Richard Williamson’s lighting design cleverly reflects the sombre tone of the show. The green and yellow hues in the blast scenes instantly make you think of radiation. When combined with Mark Friend’s desolate set and upsetting mask props that depict the people severely affected by the incident, there is an utterly chilling atmosphere on the stage. This is just one example of how the overall visual design makes the play feel extremely real and almost haunting for viewers, especially when showcased alongside survivors’ real words.

A thought-provoking drama

Mears’ play is incredibly hard hitting, retelling the historical events through impactful dialogue and spoken word. The difficult themes won’t be for everyone, but the events covered certainly make you reflect on the past and the impact of warfare. Nakazono brings sincerity and humanity to their character and Mears navigates between the significant figures with ease, illustrating the impact of the atomic bomb on the scientific and political communities. Tickets for remaining Canterbury Festival events can be booked via the festival’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for The Mistake was gifted in exchange for a review.



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