Edinburgh Fringe Review: Yōkai, Underbelly Cowgate
Phoebe Graham | August 15, 2016
☆☆☆☆ 4/5 STARS
‘Without knowing why, I love this world where we come to die.’
– The magic signboard, in Yōkai*.
I couldn’t help but rise to my feet. In a world darkened by the deaths of treasured stars, doomed political prospects and EU-who-must-not-be-named post-referendum panic, Yōkai is the modest glint of light preventing us from going completely (and un-dramatically) blind.
Wonder after wonder is conjured by the charmingly warm cast from The Krumple theatre company, who use Lecoq clowning, jaw-dangling magic and tinkling music in this organic and heart-warming fringe gem.
Suited in quaintly absurd, skin coloured outfits and sporting pale faces, words are savoured by the Yōkai and transferred to expressions as wide as the Mile, whilst maintaining believable, eccentric characterisation. Countless tricks are held up their sleeves; a Christmas present is pulled out of nowhere, boxes build skyscrapers and tape becomes winding roads beneath bobbing clouds and hot air balloons.
The mischievous company, convincingly playing a species in a not-so-distant world away from our own, begin each story by setting the scenes through miniature models, giving a moon-eyed perspective, before bringing this frozen image to life. Three strands of unassumingly bizarre narratives are established, including the tale of a husband whose lover dies in a car accident, a man with a half-eaten fish head and a plaited girl disillusioned by a phone-addicted father on Christmas Eve.
Assured narrative imagination fuels the vibrancy of the style and vice versa. The quality of storytelling is refreshingly unpredictable but consistently clear. Elegant in its choreographed chaos, the stories are then drawn together. A smile is brought to many faces and a chuckle ripples and bubbles from several lips as the strands overlap, revealing tragically hopeful ends for these set of isolated individuals.
Towards the end of the captivating hour, the grieving husband, weathered by mourning, cigarettes, and bird poo, watches over the collision of these seemingly separate worlds created by the Yōkai, all while a tree naturally grows from his ear.
All ideas used up until this point blossom in a final and ethereally powerful image, bustling with a life of tragedy and hope. A path of tape is then traced through the audience, physically binding us together, now connecting us to this world.
A moment of silence lingers as the lights go down, leaving the colourful lights of a model house burning through the partial darkness. The pause isn’t awkward; it’s a pause of awe, reflection and unity. Yōkai reminds us that, in a world of theoretical divisions, the stories we make as individuals are a part of a greater narrative.
*I didn’t know either. Yōkai is a Japanese term used to refer to a supernatural ghost, spirit or monster in Japanese folklore (thank you, Wikipedia).