About a metre away from my desk where I’m typing this review are shelves containing my other main interest outside of theatre-going; my ever-growing movie collection. When I hear ‘Japanese horror’ or ‘Japanese supernatural tales’ I think of movies on these shelves. I think of Ringu, I think of Audition, I think of Ugetsu, of House, of Kwaidan: I could go on and on here. Some of these stories are new, rich additions to the horror tales from Japan; some are reworkings or homages to tales of old – to Japanese folklore.
So as you might imagine, The Crick Crack Club had my immediate interest when they kindly invited us along to review Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai – The Game of Candles, an evening of Japanese horror and folklore. In Edo period Japan, this was a game where a community would gather around one hundred candles and as a story finished a candle would be extinguished, to allow space for the spirit to come and take a place, until everyone was left in the darkness.
We are introduced to our storytellers, Tim Ralphs and Sarah Liisa Wilkinson, who first inform us that yes, there are slightly fewer than one hundred candles: there are eight candles for the eight stories they are going to tell us. These stories will be from Japan, but also, as a tribute to this tradition, they will take us on a little tour, with stories from all around the world. We visit Japan obviously, but our destinations also include Scottish highlands, Finnish forests and a London university.
Both storytellers are excellent, holding the audience with them at all times, enthralled. We can hear reactions through the audience, gasps and other quiet (and occasionally less quiet!) responses. There is a natural chemistry between our performers too, as they listen to and react to each other’s stories and even comment on them. There’s great amusement as Wilkinson admits that in preparing for this she decided that scary stories frighten her and so slipped in one nice story, much to Ralph’s tongue in cheek disapproval.
Other than the eight candles there are no props, there are no gimmicks, no effects, no jump scares, and no gore – just two people on a dimly lit stage, with the lights lessening and lessening as each story finishes. There is nowhere to hide: everything is about the story and delivery and there is just natural ease to both storytellers. They make it look easy; make it look effortless.
The room gets steadily darker as the tales are told and the candles extinguished. Finally, we are left with one story where Ralphs and Wilkinson come together over a single candle to bring us to a haunting end. It’s a wonderful evening and I’m glad to report that I have my next visit with Crick Crack Club already booked.
The Game of Candles was a one off event. The Crick Crack Club will return to Kings Place with The Beast in Me on November 25. Further information and tickets can be found here.