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'The Mistake' - a new play about the Hiroshima bomb

  • Michael Mears

Photo credit: Simon Richardson

Photo credit: Simon Richardson

Michael Mears' new play 'The Mistake' comes to London at the end of the month and he performs in it. It interweaves the stories of a young woman in war-time Hiroshima, a brilliant Hungarian scientist, and the American pilot who flew the plane that dropped the bomb. The dropping of the first atomic bomb is referred to on the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima as 'the mistake'.

I had been working on this play, on and off, over a number of years and it was finally due to receive its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival in 2020, the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, Covid came along and put paid to that. Should I now wait till the 80th anniversary in 2025? But the pressing issue of nuclear weapons and their proliferation is a constant and ever-growing danger.

When it was announced that the 2022 Edinburgh Festival would go ahead, I felt that I wanted to get the play 'out there' without waiting any longer. And with Russia invading Ukraine shortly after I had confirmed my slot at the Festival, the play and its themes seemed more relevant and urgent than ever. So, we had a run at the Festival.

Despite the play not shirking the horrors of what happened to survivors on the ground in Hiroshima, the response from audiences was very positive and they spread the word to friends and acquaintances without hesitation. People seemed deeply engaged with the material, moved by it, challenged by it, wanting to talk to myself and my co-performer, Japanese actress Emiko Ishii, as soon as we'd finished the performance.

One man, Larry, told me that he'd found the play very healing, helping him to resolve issues within his family - his father had always believed the atom bomb was necessary to end the war, whereas Larry had passionately disagreed.

Another man told me that his father had been a 'back-room boy' on the Manhattan Project - and had in fact been at the very first atom bomb test on 16 July 1945 - which we reference in the play. I was lost for words when he told me this.

A female American academic said: "Even though I already knew about the Hiroshima bombing, I learned a great deal more from the play. It is not only enlightening but also deeply moving. I rarely cry at the theatre, but there was one scene toward the end of this play that brought me to tears."

Another man reflected: "'The Mistake' is a devastating play about the bombing of Hiroshima, told from all sides of the story. It is equal parts gut-wrenching, infuriating and heart-breaking. This is the closest I've ever come to tears in a theatre, and this is a show I'll never forget."

One audience member said: "This work is a prime example of why people tell stories through theatre. Such a personalised account of this terrible tragedy made me feel very sad but also galvanised me to learn more."

These audience responses were deeply gratifying and made me feel the project had been worth all the toil and effort needed to bring it to fruition. After the final performance of the Festival, a Japanese family came up to me, saying that it was their first visit to Edinburgh and that we were the first play they'd been to. What's more, they told me that their son's grandfather was a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, and that at the age of 94 was still alive and active, now living in Tokyo. The boy's father told me that the grandfather never cursed or blamed the Americans for what had happened.

I found it very humbling to hear these testimonies. I am very glad that we have brought this important material to life and that 'The Mistake' is now up and running - ready for a tour of the UK in 2023. We very much hope this will include schools. And not only the UK - perhaps even further afield…?


London performances of 'The Mistake'

From Tuesday 31 January to Saturday 4 February for one week, 'The Mistake' will be at the ARCOLA THEATRE, Dalston, 24 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL. 8pm each evening. There will be a matinee performance as well on Saturday 4 February and a Q and A on Thursday 2 February after the performance, with Kate Hudson, CND chair, taking part.

Nearest tube is Highbury and Islington - then a bus or London Overground to Dalston. Nearest stations are the London Overground at Dalston Junction or Dalston Kingsland.

www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/the-mistake/

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