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Strange Tales review – hi-tech theatre meets ancient Chinese storytelling – The Guardian

A demon with a paintbrush retouches the features of the human skin it is about to don; a man sneezes and three voracious beasties leap from his nose to fasten forever to him; another travels to a distant monastery where he sees a goddess descend from the moon and learns a fantastical skill, but when he returns home…

In his collection of strange tales, Chinese author Pu Songling (1640-1715) presented hundreds of such uncanny stories. Here, co-writers and directors Ben Harrison and Pauline Lockhart have selected eight tales to be enacted by three storytellers, with additional input from video designers Bright Side Studios. The combination of technology and live action sometimes works well (the goddess descending from moon), sometimes not (a battle between video monsters and a live performer). In between embodying fantasticalities, Luna Dai, Robin Khor Yong Kuan and Lockhart conversationally impart background information and share biographical snippets with the audience. Or do they? The framing of the final story about a visit to a fortune-teller suggests that the script may have been slyly echoing Songling’s boundary-blurring, meta-fictional style, to leave us wondering: where do life and fantasy begin and end?

At the Traverse, Edinburgh, until 21 December


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