Kwaidan by Rouge 28 Theatre

Kwaidan
by Rouge 28 Theatre
Greenwich Theatre, London
(19-21 October 2017)

Review by Heidi Potter

A music box plays in an empty room; the only furniture a dresser with television, a mirror and a box of children’s toys on the floor. Suddenly the music is interrupted by a child’s voice calling ‘Mama’. Later we see a young woman, Haru, enter the room – the programme note explaining that this is the 1980s and she is returning to her childhood home after many years.

As the tale unfolds, it becomes clear that the abandoned house is not empty. Strange things start to happen, and its rooms appear to be inhabited by ghosts who appear and disappear at whim. Using Rouge 28’s trademark fusion of puppetry, video projection and live performance, new characters are introduced and begin to interact with Haru and each other. A face appears in a mirror, ghosts emerge from cupboards, doors open and close mysteriously, while objects appear to move unaided.

Nakamura Aya takes on the roles of the living, past and present, ably supported by the unseen Gilbert Taylor who moves objects and puppets from within the shadows. A far cry from Japan’s bunraku puppet theatre, in this production life-sized puppets are skilfully transferred from the invisible puppeteer into the hands of the live actress. In the persona of Yoko, Haru’s mother, Nakamura dances with the sinisterly lascivious Nakatomi, while as the present day Haru, she cradles and comforts her infant self; in Nakamura’s expert hands, the puppets take on life and personality.

The story may not offer many surprises to a 21stcentury audience exposed to a varied diet of suspense and horror, but the melding of live performance with recorded audio visual effects creates an atmosphere of tension and dread, which sucks in even the more cynical viewer. A few moments of humour and light relief, such as the burlesque performed by a puppet body below a human head, serve only to ratchet up the sense of foreboding. There are certainly enough chills here for this Hallowe’en season. From London, Kwaidan travels to venues around the UK – do catch it if you can (1).

Ghosts in Japan are part of the everyday: the line between the present life and the other world is very thin and spirits may frequently be found wandering in our world. This is particularly true when death has come suddenly or violently. The performance of Kwaidan on 20 October was followed by a post-talk discussion in which Nakamura and Paul Piris, the creative minds behind Kwaidan, were joined by Dr Lucia Dolce and Dr Alan Cummings to discuss ghosts in theatre and in religious tradition, providing context to this contemporary take on the tradition of Japanese kaidan or tales of the strange and mysterious.

(1) Coming up:
24 October – Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes
27 October – Bath Spa University
29 October – Slung Low Hub, Leeds
30 October – University of Sheffield
2 November – Forest Arts Centre, New Milton
3 November – Pegasus Theatre, Oxford
8 November – Salisbury Arts Centre, Salisbury
20 – 22 November – Deree, Athens (Greece)

 

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