Ellen Hodgetts | 25th Aug 2016
☆☆☆☆☆ 5/5 STARS
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.