The Feast of the Ants
The Mugensha Theatre Company Tokyo
The Feast of the Ants was developed out of previous performances in Japan and is the Mugensha Theatre Company's second production in London, their first being, The Emperor's New Clothes, both the productions hosted by Theatro Technis.
One is struck immediately by the professionalism and respect for presentation: they hand out information on the production and questionnaires on how to improve the production to each audience member; they have displays of the designer's art work, and quotes on the wall, Beware egotistical human beings, arrogant human beings, for nature will burn with anger and punish you every now and then (Chekhov). They are not only selling a show, but a whole theatrical experience. From beginning to end they greet, accommodate and entertain their audience with their stylised farce on the selfishness of humanity.
This production is performed in Japanese with an English speaking Blue Bird, belonging to the barbershop's owner and his wife, who narrates most of the story. The language barrier does not hinder the experience; in fact the production is so physical that one follows the fourteen-character ensemble, (see www.mugensha.com for full cast list) surprisingly well with little explanation. In fact on occasion information was unnecessarily spoon fed to the audience.
Designer Shohey Yamashita's artistic eye for detail extended the scenography from the stage to the auditorium. This economical use of the whole theatre created imaginative scene separation, done with mesh screens that become transparent with light, (Lighting Designer, Saori Enomoto.)
The Feast of the Ants is an extremely visual performance with a wonderful sense of play in both the costumes and the hand made/appropriated props. The story of " useless people, (who) swarm together at the useless barber in the useless town" and the set marry together to represent a metaphorical world. Everything is exaggerated,creating this surreal cartoon-like world, Arizuka Town. Here the characters represent archetypes of selfishness, stupidity, greed and lust where they cannot be honest to each other or themselves, resulting in a sense of hopelessness for both the town and the people living there.
Director So-Un Kotebayashi used fundamental storytelling techniques to draw an international audience into this universal story about mankind. His direction was visible and deliberately bold with physical poetry. He conducted the performers around the space as if they were musical notes. There was a clear commitment to physical movement from the start, which was an extremely successful way of allowing the audience to follow the story. However, once they have understood the story, the worst thing to do to your audience is make them sit through it a second and third time.
That said I agree with George Eugeniou (founder and artistic director of Theatro Technis) who describes the company as Total Theatre and feels they commit wholeheartedly to the philosophy of making good theatre: to, as director So-Un Kotebayashi says, stir up feelings, provoke, destroy, awaken, and shake up... It may be vulgar, it may be pure, it may be awkward, and it may be abundant. It's multiple, it's layered, and it's full of variety, hurt, fear, hesitation, shame, arrear, and joy...I want to create a theatre that would easily incorporate all of these themes within the moments of the stage.
"The Feast of the Ants" runs until 5th March
Reviewer: Lennie Varvarides