Yokai

Thu 4th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Ellen Hodgetts

at 19:56 on 25th Aug 2016

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As the lights go down for the performance of ‘Yokai’, an absurdist scene unfolds as six performers clad in nude body suits that leave little to the imagination begin to appear onstage. The title ‘Yokai’ comes from a Japanese word that refers to a group of spectral creatures found in folk tales. There is certainly something spectral about this performance, in which stories are narrated through an eclectic mix of dance, mime, magic, physical theatre and puppetry. It is surreal, continually and pleasantly surprising throughout.

The staging is a wonder: a series of stackable and movable blocks which are cleverly rearranged to create a series of miniature landscapes. Living within these landscapes are a group of beautifully crafted puppets who are placed in position at the beginning of each section. These dolls-house miniatures, however, are subsequently brought to life by the performers in a series of thought-provoking sketches.

Three seemingly unconnected narrative strands are established: a man whose partner is killed in a car accident, a young girl who is ignored and neglected by a work-addicted father on Christmas eve, and, bizarrely, a man whose head is half eaten by a fish. They are stories which range from intense grief to curious yet hilarious moments of humour, and all are performed touchingly by this talented cast. It is a testament to this talent that they can grip the audience so strongly, moving them from laughter as the fish-headed man somehow coughs up an enormous fish-hook to an absolute and poignant silence as we watch the daughter committing suicide, all in a matter of minutes.

‘Yokai’ is at once tender, harrowing, heart-wrenching and humorous, and through a series of perfectly crafted vignettes explores a spectrum of emotions which question what it means to be a human. Whilst initially all seemingly unconnected, at the end they come together to bring a message to the audience about the power of hope, and its presence even in the bleakest of moments. A tree sprouts from the ear of the grieving man, symbolic of the potential for hope and new life which characterises the message from the Krumple Theatre Company.

The performance closes as the cast run through the audience with rolls of masking tape, draping it from the floor over the chairs and in-between spectators in a final attempt to connect us to the fragile yet beautiful world they have built over the last hour. A must-see for anyone looking for something different at the Fringe this summer, ‘Yokai’ is a hidden gem of mime, magical storytelling and physical theatre, performed by an incredibly imaginative and talented cast. It is unlike any piece of theatre that I have seen before, and is a work of art that remains with you long after you have left and returned home.

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Becky Wilson

at 03:18 on 26th Aug 2016

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It is difficult to know how to describe ‘Yokai’. This show is a truly original hybrid of physical theatre, prop-based mime and storytelling. Six international performers use everything at their disposal – from tiny, intricate props to their own twisting bodies, to convey three colourful stories.

An absentee father struggles his way into his daughter’s heart on Christmas eve. A dedicated boyfriend experiences the death of his partner, then struggles towards acceptance. And (my personal favourite) a man goes about his evening, his head half-eaten by a giant fish. These varied, often bizarre tales, which address the themes of suicide and mourning as well as slapstick, fill the show with flecks of darkness and light.

This piece of theatre is frequently arresting but infinitely charming. The performers themselves unexpectedly become giant versions of the puppets, sporting identical costumes and postures. Moreover, a hilarious self-awareness is woven into the fabrics of the show, like a running joke shared between the performers and audience. The dancers tiptoe across the stage in their skin-tight flesh coloured bodysuits, convinced they are unseen. The electricity cuts out as three of them use a smoke machine, blatantly onstage, yet believing we cannot see them. They stare at us with delightfully alarmed expressions, like deer caught in the headlights.

What raises ‘Yokai’ from a good to an excellent production is its shrewd synchronicity. For instance, the sequins which pour out of the weary fisherman’s wellies have been designed to catch the stage lights like droplets of water. In another particularly noteworthy moment, sound, sight and sentiment combine to present the beaming, tone-deaf girlfriend as she sings from a giant fluffy cloud. Her jolly music is a jarring soundtrack to the mourning of her grieving lover, who is left on earth, passing season after season by her gravestone. Somehow, the effect is simultaneously upsetting and endlessly amusing.

The only shortfall of this show is its ending. The three stories, which have up until this point been neatly interwoven, suddenly clash in a noisy and bewildering conclusion. Such chaos appears to undermine the intricately-orchestrated coherence of the rest of the show, and almost trivialises 'Yokai''s profundity.

However, with such a stunning spectacle like this, is deeper meaning really necessary? The slick execution of these bittersweet stories, the synchronicity of these bodies, and the way they melt with sound and set is spot on. ‘Yokai’ is a production which is most definitely worth your time.

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