Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Maraudo — Visitors from the World Beyond (Review)

Lafcadio Hearn
When artists collaborate with ghosts the results can be peculiar and disquieting. And no stranger wraith exists than that of Lafcadio Hearn who in the century or more since his death has remained as active and curious as when he was alive.

Born in Greece, raised as a child in Ireland, Lafcadio in his corporeal state had many journeys around the world writing stories, essays and novels influenced by his experiences. Finally he settled in Japan where he retold the dark folktales of a land caught in the process of often painful renewal, as western influences shaped and often replaced centuries old Japanese traditions in governance, economy and culture.

Death did nothing to diminish Lafcadio’s ever active, ever asking mind, as with every passing decade new generations of Japanese artists and thinkers sought him out. In 1964 four of Lafcadio’s ghost stories were used as the basis of Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, a long slow disturbing movie, described by Tor fantasy and Sci-Fi website as ‘beautiful, cold and exquisitely unreal’.

A more recent collaboration with Lafcadio is Maraudo — Visitors from the World Beyond in which the unsettling power of Lafcadio’s work and his life were played out before an audience in Galway Arts Centre's Nun’s Island Theatre by the actor Shiro Sano  and rock guitarist  Kyoji Yamamoto.

The setting used in this production was stark and uncluttered.  Each performer had a chair in which they remain seated throughout the production. In addition they each had a small table beside them. On Shiro’s table were the script and a small imitation candle; on Kyoji’s a mixing board connected to his electric guitar. On the stage before them a line of electronic candles. Behind and above them a dark screen. Apart from the occasional image this screen was mostly used to post up English translations of the Shiro’s performance. White on black the words hung high in the air adding to a sense of vastness and depth that, as the show unfolded, threatened to swallow and crush the audience.

Maraudo — Visitors from the World Beyond began quietly enough, with Shiro Sano readings extracts from letters from Lafcadio and reminiscences from his family. These showed that even as a child in Ireland Lafcadio was pulled towards the dark and the macabre. Following this intro a selection of Lafcadio’s stories were retold, or perhaps a better word would be revealed for the telling was slow and careful and with every word spoken and every white word hung above, with every note played or distorted or abruptly ended, Other Worlds were brought closer and closer to our short and mortal reality.

We glimpsed the World of Lafcadio’s childhood, the World of his imagination; the World of a Japan shifting from Shugon feudalism to westernised Imperial oligarchy. More than anything we were given glimpses of the World beyond; the World of Gods and Goblins; of awesome powers that needs be kept in balance lest they destroy everything we hold dear.

With the progression of the tales, the telling became ever more animate, with Shiro Sano morphing into a magical shapeshifter, one moment his face that of giggling girl, the next the mask of a haughty elite warrior. His voice rose, fell, stilled and screamed all the while perfectly matched by the performance of Kyoji Yamamoto as he plucked and spilled and tapped and roared sounds from his electric guitar. Soon the expressions and range of actor and guitar became so perfectly blended that at times it seemed the guitar was the storyteller and the actor the musical instrument

The climax of the evening was the retelling of The Living God, a tale of a coastal community who are startled one evening to see the waters suddenly slipping further and further away towards the Horizon, revealing the bottom of the sea. In our interconnected world we know the horror that is coming, yet our cognition only makes the tale more horrifying. There is nothing we can do but listen with dread to the voice and music of the tale. When the sea returns, high as a cliff and flecked with foam Shiro screamed ‘Tsunami!’ and then became utterly stilled and silent. As the actor sat, almost as if at prayer, Yamamoto drew out from his guitar a growl that grew steadily and unceasingly louder and angrier and louder and angrier and ever more terrifying until it was a huge spitting, seething wall of sound smashing through coastline, homes, fields; ripping apart the very soil and sod of the landscape as we the audience were caught and ripped and reshaped in the pounding, roaring foam-flecked immeasurable power of the Living God.

And then there was silence.  The world resettled itself. The show was over. Yamamoto and Shiro bowed. The audience breathed again and as they broke into applause Lafcadio and all his tales of goblins and warriors and wives and Gods and tricksters returned satisfied to the World Beyond.

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Me, Shiro & Yoshimi after the show
Post Script. A big thank you to Shiro, Yamamoto and Yoshimi of Wa Café for inviting me tell one of my macabre tales before the start of the show.

Lyric FM recently did a fascinating documentary on Lafacdio Hearn, which includes a reading from The Living God. Listen to it on The Lyric Feature.
Lafcadio Hearn Gardens: The story of Lafcadio Hearn 
Shiro Sano and Kyoji Yamamoto: Lafcadio Hearn Reading Performance
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For more on my work as a writer and storyteller see rabfultonstories
My new workshops on writing dark tales of Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy begin January 2016. For details see: Writing Dark Tales - creative writing workshops.
Fans of dark tales, may want to check out my online blog novel Marcus Marcus & the Hurting Heart which was commissioned by the Múscailt Arts Festival.