In the blink of an eye, The Lowry has come of age and, as part of its 18th birthday celebrations, the Week 53 festival has decked itself out in thematically apt bunting.

French theatre company, the grandly-named Jaris Mathieu with Haut et Court Collective, take, as their starting point, the titular Japanese expression of retreat from the bruising collisions of the material world and use it as a doorway through which to explore the tentative dance of intimacy and withdrawal within an archetypal family trinity of mother, father and child.

In a deft touch, the visual metaphor, via which the production is experienced, is a set of headphones, a device which both connects and isolates. Through them, it’s possible to access not only the spoken dialogue of the characters, but also their inner monologue, and – through the cracks where silence would be – the subtle italics of the sound design, drawing emphasis to the action.

Hikikomori, The LowryThe staging, too, is a delightfully conceived. Suggesting a shifting space that is at once Major Tom’s capsule and either a fall-out bunker or anchorite’s cell, its perspectives flatten and solidify through the legerdemain of lighting and projection, signalling the disjunctures between the virtual and the real.

That delayed English translation follows the terse French dialogue – a creative decision part-borne out of necessity – enables deeper disconnections to slip into the narrative.

Less successful, perhaps, are the fault lines that issue between its generic registers. Framed within the setting of a Black Mirror-like near-future, the subsequent shifts into folkloric symbolism or Kafkaesque allegory jar, when the fuller development of either might have proved more effective.

Hikikomori, The LowryThat such tonal plate tectonics do not result in more definitive fissures is in part down to Nicolas Thevenet’s subtle scoring, exemplified best by its droll evocation of The Cure’s Carnage Visors when all three characters seem lost in a forest.

Ultimately, however, what draws the piece together are its thematic paradoxes. In particular, the suggestion asserts itself that, in withdrawing from the world, in becoming untouchable, it is the son who exercises the greatest control over his situation.

At the very last, removing their headphones, the audience cut him adrift in turn. And, leaving the capsule, reconnect; touched, but not untouchable.

By Desmond Bullen