Victoria Fringe Festival
Sept 10 to 16th
Tickets can be bought online.
Botan Dōrō (牡丹燈籠, The Peony Lantern) is a classic Japanese ghost story that can easily deliver chills when adapted to the silver screen. It’s been made and remade since coming into publication circa 17th Century. One of its earliest incarnations was a 1910 silent film production from which I feel The Yokohama Theatre Group took inspiration from. There’s a German Expressionist design—intentional or not—which I recognize. The angles the two huge projection screens intersect are very reminiscent of how two walls in The Cabinet of Caligari bend towards Francis (with one foot bound to a chain) as though it’s laying pressure, holding him down.
The visual motifs are very clear in the theatrical adaptation. Here, the team creates a fantastic illusion of movement. One example is how the rickshaw seems to come alive when in front of a moving video. It carries a new arrival. A lone traveller, Islay Vogel (Nora Beryll), arrives by boat to Japan and he doesn’t have a place to stay until his cab gets lost, introduces a wandering spirit, and finally makes its way to a hostel. There, he encounters an attractive female, O-Tsuyu (May Sera), even though his landlady seems unaware of, and the young adults fall in love.
Anyone familiar with the feudal tale knows what’s still to come. The terror is gleefully played out with shadow puppets in a play within a play. We also know, whereas the folks in this play do not.
With a flick of a switch to change images on the velvet screens (and the addition of fog effects), the eeriness of the situation only grows. The lingering atmosphere created by this projection and added Diabolus in Musica only adds to the auditory hallucination I’m experiencing. There’s a rattle of bones nearby. Anna Murray created the sound design and the most effective voice is the droning rasp from a source I can’t fathom as naturally produced. It must be a sound generator.
A few changes are made so we’re not witnessing another death of an innocent. Instead, it’s with this weary traveller’s readiness to move on when that new life isn’t in the cards in this strange land. Eliza (Nicole Rodgers) is no help, as she looks down at the Japanese, and is hardly the perfect ambassador. The subplot about about American attitudes towards the Japanese during the early 20th century doesn’t get fully addressed in this work.
When Islay decides he’s in love with this mysterious lady, his fate doesn’t feel as cruel. The warnings come in all directions, and he doesn’t take heed.
The show is unique because of the stage design from Ted Charles Brown. He crafted a lofi version of the LED projection (called Stagecraft) technique used in The Mandalorian. The 3D illusion really works when there’s a camera separating audiences from a live stage. But if we are stuck watching from home because the pandemic is showing no signs of lessening and seats are quartered because of restrictions, live theatre may consider ways to add value to their shows when constructing full sets aren’t needed. It won’t be used when theatres are back up and fully running, but in the meantime, this group is making use of the latest technologies to make their performances really shine.
Islay – Nora Beryll
Yoshinosuke – Akihiro Akane
Eliza – Nicole Rodgers
O-Tsuyu – May Sera
Mrs. Tanaka – Aisha Johari
Old Woman – 小林 真樹 | Maki Kobayashi
Puppeteer – Keith