Despite a ten year gap from their last show, Wide Eyed Theatre’s seventh production received an almost sold out run. Taking place in the home of Wide Eyed Theatre, a small shop house in the heart of the Nakano district in Tokyo, this unsuspecting place played host to a dark, modern fairy tale for adults. Even though the play was in English, it was heartening to see a good mix of people in attendance, mostly internationals but a sizable number of Japanese as well.
Co-founder of Wide Eyed Theatre Makiko Mikami comes from an acting background, with the company having started in London in 2003. Makiko and founding members Rachel and David took a leap of faith setting up Wide Eyed Theatre, intending to bring modern theatre to the Tokyo arts scene and attempting to reach out to the Japanese community with creative storytelling. Having taken the last ten years to reflect and rediscover her craft, the years of silence have paid off with A Faerie Tale, and this can only bode well for the future of theatre in Japan.
The unorthodox tale then began with the villagers bringing out a man to the centre of the stage, accused of a crime against the village, and the audience encouraged to stone him to death as punishment. The performers then launched into a story within the story, flashing back to the history behind the crime, and we followed them upstairs to witness the events that preceded the stoning.
The idea behind A Faerie Tale lies in immersive, promenade theatre, where audience members were ushered into a ‘village’, each taking on the role of a villager, with the performers interacting with the audience to set the mood and create the fairy tale atmosphere. With a little more mingling (and a complimentary drink!), we were quickly integrated into the village community, and educated by Rachel on fairy tale trivia before the show started off proper.
Entering a Rashomon-esque type narrative, the story follows that a literal miracle worker existed in the village, with a magical voice that brought out the best in the village, causing crops to grow, animals to work harder and even increase their fertility rate, a source of humour for myself and many audience members when the performers mimicked a pig giving birth, grunting and snorting seemingly infinitely. Our antagonist is then reintroduced, entering the village to burn down the crops and kill off the livestock, the crime he is accused of.
At this point, we were brought downstairs to proceed with the stoning, but not before we entered the second interpretation of the tale, this time narrated by the accused himself, and we returned upstairs. To the horror of the audience, the man explained that he was the miracle worker’s husband, and she was not as innocent as she seemed, baking spiked pastries that sent villagers into a trance. These pastries were previously given out to audience members to consume, and a few of them had priceless expressions on their faces with the reveal. Still in love with the woman, the man kills her out of a sense of duty, albeit reluctantly.
Whether this story has a happy ending or not, we won’t spoil for you, but what we can say is that the true strength of Wide Eyed Theatre lies in their far reaching imagination to have pulled off this show. With minimal props, lighting and simple costumes, the company was able to create and devise an entire fantasy world with the use of some creative sound effects. It was easy to get lost in the compelling narrative, and really become a part of the whole process. Wide Eyed Theatre is here to shake up the tradition that Japanese theatre usually associates itself with, lending a Western touch to it, and slowly change and expand the way we think of Japanese theatre.
If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, try to catch one of their performances, and support their cause in developing the modern theatre scene there. English theatre is slowly making is mark on the city, and with more interest, it can only grow and go further.
Photo Credit: John Matthews