The Buddha in the Attic

Julie Otsuka

The emotional depth and the grace of Julie Otsuka’s novel is brilliantly translated onto the stage by Richard Brunel. The strength of the story itself is extraordinary (…). On the boards of the cloître des Carmes in Avignon, adorned with large white curtains, these multiple voices are carried by seven tremendous actresses (…). Natalie Dessay’s equally outstanding voice joins this chorus (…). The four actors who play all the male roles shine as brightly. Richard Brunel’s staging has a distinctly cinematic quality and smoothly uses time and place (…). The story is told through the lens of intimacy – a plural and feminine intimacy, a choir of subtly orchestrated voices.

Fabienne Darge, Le Monde

These silent tragedies, these broken fates, these painful lives – Richard Brunel’s adaptation and staging bring them close to us. The set design, the scene changes, the careful use of projection, the hushed atmosphere of the performance along with the liveliness with which it unfolds – everything here is both captivating and moving. The actors and actresses are poignant and bring a tangible depth to the characters. At the end, the arrival of Nathalie Dessay, blond and very “American”, is remarkably forceful and deeply moving. She stands out as one incredible stage actress.

Armelle Héliot, Le Figaro

At the Avignon Festival, exiled Japanese women are given a shrine by Richard Brunel. The stage director brings to life the forgotten story of these Japanese women who lived in a hostile America from the 1920s to the Second World War. Through the poetry of Julie Ostuka’s prose, these women find their place once again… Because here, language is omnipotent. Within it live exile, domination and resistance.

Béatrice Bouniol, La Croix

The script and the staging match perfectly. Truly a highlight of the Festival.

Jacky Bornet, Culture Box

Julie Otsuka’s (magnificent) book captures a period that Richard Brunel’s clever mise-en-scène perfectly translates. A truly historical moment unfolds before our eyes, revived by the magic of the stage. It is beautiful, sensitive and moving. The actresses give life to their characters. A must-see that deserves to be shared!

Philippe Chavernac, Critic for Paris Blogspot

Julie Otsuka’s prose reaches us in its most intimate details and spirit. It is essential to surrender to it, because The Buddha in the Attic retells a forgotten story, that of exile and its avatars. Because, as the story culminates, Nathalie Dessay bears witness to the ineffable void that was left when the Japanese fled. Because this demanding play slowly makes its way into minds after the performance. Because, finally, it tackles migration and exile without the usual moaning and bawling.

David Rofé-Sarfati, Toute la culture

The staging of this both startling and poignant collective fate is flawless; it manages to create a choir-like atmosphere through the women’s portraits, duplicated on video, and the use of language and archives (…). The work scenes are perfectly rendered thanks to an inspired stage design which never neglects the direction of actors.

Luc Hernandez, Guide culture

The director of the Comédie de Valence, through a delicate and elegant mise-en-scène, retraces the unsung fate of the female Japanese emigrants who became American pariahs.

Vincent Bouquet, Les échos

The story of these young Japanese women who left their country is… deeply moving. A clear choral performance, carried by a group of quality actors and lit up by Natalie Dessay’s appearance. She is, no doubt, a very fine actress.

Armelle Héliot, Le Figaro

Both tangible and dreamlike, Richard Brunel’s production is full of such gems and very different from that of Julie Otsuka’s vision, who, in her book, puts into words the journey of her ancestors. The distance of the French artist from the events told in the story leads, on stage, to a very truthful performance. Anouk Dell’Aria’s beautiful set design also contributes to breathing life into the eight short parts of the book. All around the stage, white fabric swallows the women’s cries and allows for smooth, almost ghost-like transitions. Pain, in The Buddha in the Attic, never lingers. The play’s chorus, expanded through very sober, almost documentary-like video projections made by Jérémie Scheidler, is shrouded in a strangeness which eschews pathos and elegantly accompanies the poetry of the text. Yesterday’s exile, the exile of other places, meets today’s exiles. Convincingly so.

Anaïs Heluin, Scène Web

The strength of theatre comes from its ability to breathe life into those who were silenced. The Buddha in the Attic accomplishes this feat perfectly.

A.A, Le Dauphiné Libéré

Such a splendid production, in which the folding screens are brought to life with the faces of those who had never seen the sea before sailing with us from Avignon to Japan and, without pause, from Japan to America. We were amazed by the subtle poetry of this production: the purity of its lines and movement, the softness of the faces and the strength of its words. Uneasy feelings and unbearable sadness, but sketched with incredible delicacy, as was the case in Saigon last year. The magic of Avignon was palpable when a storm surrounded the cloître with its lightning, its strobe lights, as if it had come to bear witness to the suffering of these pure-hearted women who have disappeared today but will never be brought down. The storm then burst into torrential tears, drenching the scene and washing our sorrow away. The festival’s thunder storm! Boom!

La vie

The production is beautiful and effective. The careful use of video deserves special commendation: close-ups of each exiled woman with whispered speeches offered to the audience, pastel hues reinforcing the impression that softness, in such circumstances, is the best way of showing the unbearable and the frustrating. This masterpiece brilliantly refreshes the easily-forgotten memory of our surrenders and of the incredible self-centredness of these white men from the American plains. A must-see, brimming with revolt and tenderness.

Sébastien Descours, io/Gazette

A beautiful masterpiece which rekindles the memory of these women to whom the director pays tribute.

Jean Couturier, Théâtre du Blog

A visual poem resonating with incantatory echoes, The Buddha in the Attic is composed of fine brush strokes, which impress us from morning to night.

Yves Kafka, Inferno

The staging is very soft, the décor is mobile and disappears in the wings. The carefully-chosen costumes take us from traditional Japanese clothing to relaxed American outfits. Brunel tells us about a disappearance, symbolised by the shifts of the set. For instance, women working on their sewing-machines are swallowed by arcades. This works beautifully. Brunel unleashes the dogs, a bad one and a good one, and skilfully transports us to the past.

Amelie Blaustein Niddam, Toute la culture

The Buddha in the attic
Julie Otsuka

Based on the novel The Buddha in the Attic – The Marsh Agency Ltd, incorporating Paterson Marsh Ltd and Campbell Thomson & McLaughlin Ltd – Copyright © Julie Otsuka, 2011

French translation Carine Chichereau
Director and adapter Richard Brunel
Dramaturg Catherine Ailloud-Nicolas
Set designer Anouk Dell’Aiera
Costume designer Benjamin Moreau
Sound designer Antoine Richard
Lighting designer Laurent Castaingt
Video designer Jérémie Scheidler
Assistant director Pauline Ringeade

Produced by La Comédie de Valence, CDN Drôme-Ardèche
Co-produced by Festival d’Avignon; Théâtre des Quartiers d’Ivry, CDN du Val-de-Marne
Integrated into the École du Nord training mechanism, supported by the Région Hauts-de-France and the DRAC Hauts-de-France


Simon Alopé,
Mélanie Bourgeois,
Youjin Choi,
Yuika Hokama,
Mike Nguyen,
Ely Penh,
Linh-Dan Pham,
Chloé Réjon,
Alyzée Soudet,
Kyoko Takenaka,
Haïni Wang
Natalie Dessay