Doubtful Sound, a London-based Japanese theatre company, return after a haitus due to the COVID pandemic. This time they are in Barons Court Theatre, with a selection of folk tales and folk songs from the Japanese prefecture of Yamanashi. Yamanashi is a trading town, and therefore many of the stories, including ‘The Nightingale who Leaps from One Side to the Other’, and ‘Cat Leg Lamp’, are hilarious tongue-in-cheek accounts of merchants returning to wives who have taken lovers in their absence.
The Woman Who Eats Babies is the first of Doubtful Sound’s productions that is performed solely in English. Undoubtedly some things are lost in translation, but Shinako Wakatsuki (who is both translator and lead actor) finds a way to wonderfully meld English humour and authentic storytelling that gives us a taste of Yamanashi as well as common ground to access the tales. It is simply genius!
The production is simple and intimate, making fantastic use of the black-box-meets-cave of Barons Court Theatre. The set is minimal, with only a tatami mat. The stories, selected from over 50 Yamanashi folk tales (as I found out in the post-show Q&A), are short and sweet, reaching a humorous, if sometimes cryptic punchline. They are woven together by Yui Shikakura, who remains onstage the entire time, playing beautiful traditional folk songs.
The two actors, Wakatsuki and Gavin Harrington-Odedra, regularly break the fourth wall with direct address that always gets a laugh from the audience. There’s even use of the show’s writer/director, Andrew Wakatsuki-Robinson, who occupies the lighting booth and occasionally acts as a third character. Even the audience is brought in to participate: indeed, I was draped with a black cloth, so beware of sitting on the front row if you’re on the shyer side!
Wakatsuki and Harrington-Odedra are at ease with each other and the audience, and keep us engaged throughout. Though they stumbled over a couple of lines on the night, this is easily forgivable as they charm us with their clear enjoyment of the tales. Wakatsuki is particularly impressive in her ability to transform through her vocal and physical embodiment of the various characters. Both actors are fully committed to the narratives and the pleasure of storytelling, and this shines through in their performances.
The Woman Who Eats Babies is warm and joyful in its simplicity. It reminds us of the essence of sharing stories: that it can just be for fun – not always political or radical. It simply brings us together, makes us laugh in recognition, or through absurdity, and invites an appreciation of cultures. This production is a wonderful appreciation of Yiminashi culture, and an enjoyable 60 minutes in which you will be certain to laugh!
Translation by Shinako Wakatsuki
Written and directed by Andrew Wakatsuki-Robinson
Music by Yui Shikakura
The Woman Who Eats Babies plays at Barons Court Theatre until 9 July 2022. Further information and bookings can be found here.