Craig Stephens

Craig Stephens as The Benshi in a Translation of Shadows. Picture: Graeme Braidwood

A Translation of Shadows

Birmingham Rep Door

*****

STAN’S CAFÉ is a daring and experimental theatre company based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Their work aims to stimulate the mind and translate art in defying and new ways.

In A Translation of Shadows, the company use their artistic mastery to connect the Japanese film culture with Western theatre. Of course, with their pioneering style of performance, they lead a thought provoking and enjoyable piece, testing boundaries and creating memorable thought provoking inspiration.

A Translation of Shadows is drenched in knowledge and facts. It’s witty and word-heavy script makes the production a stand-out piece elegantly written and performed by Craig Stephens.

It tends to the audience’s imagination and creates the perfect balance of education and entertainment. Their story is certainly unique in that it marries the mediums of film and theatre, transporting us to urban Japan. It is here that we learn about the fascinating role of the Japanese Benshi.

At first, the set almost feels as if we have entered a university lecture hall, with a projector as the centre point and an easel for which the narrator has pre-prepared notes to point the facts out to us. With few if any knowing what a Benshi is, Stan’s Café make the audience feel that the unknowing is OK. Perhaps this is why they captivate the mind so well.

The action begins when the Benshi, who is played by Stephens, enters the space slowly and silently, dressed in a bright orange traditional Japanese Kimono. Next, he elegantly explains to us who he is and the purpose for being there, something that Stan’s Café love to do and execute so well. Their hunger for knowledge and history wonderfully transcend into the story of the role of the Benshi within Japanese film and it is fuelled by their creative minds at every stage of the production.

We quickly learn that the Benshi was the integral voice in Japanese silent films. With audiences being so new to a new form of entertainment, it literally needed to be explained. This is where the Benshi takes his role. Because of the audience’s helplessness in analysing moving pictures, the Benshi was the conscience of the story and gave the voice to the silent film.

In this production, Director James Yarker along with writer and performer Craig Stephens explore the way in which the Benshi becomes the integral part of a story.

In this particular story, the Benshi manipulates the audience’s mind with his own analysis and thoughts in a documentary-like manner, which automatically becomes the audience’s thoughts too. Stephens’ witty script is funny as it is informative. He is a captivating narrator, constantly fuelling the audience with facts about Japanese film as well as his opinion.

His soothing and alluring voice manipulates our minds and creates an atmosphere at his own will. The tone of his voice changes the theme of the constant film from a romance, to exciting thriller and to any other theme that suits his mind. Yarker’s production goes one step further when the Benshi lifts up his hands to pause the film and play it back so that he can change the course of action too.

While the film that is explained to us is entitled ‘Shadows’ and plays on the screen, Stephens literally translates what is seen on screen and becomes the voice of the silent film. The film and his monologue work side by side to create a fascinating concept that unifies two mediums of art.

Stan’s Café celebrate the culture of Japan as well as the art form of theatre and film. A comedic moment was seen when actor Takako Akashi took over the role of Benshi and offered her own interpretation of how the film ends.

This was powerful as it was informative, filling the audiences mind with imaginative wonder at the role of the Benshi. Throughout this performance, Stan’s Café’s creative process of research and play was clear to see and the end result was a product of stimulating ideas, full of thought provoking creativity with a unique and captivating performance led so interestingly and creatively by Stephens on what it is to be a modern Benshi.

Elizabeth Halpin

21-09-15

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