Using a very particular Japanese art of painted screens and puppetry, American puppeteer Basil Twist presents an hour-long piece – Dogugaeshi, as part of the London International Mime Festival. Blending music and art on top of puppet work, Twist effectively makes this style his own, with a seemingly endless amount of hand-painted screens opening and closing, and some modern music thrown in (who knew Ethel Merman’s classic “No Business Like Show Business” had a place within a Japanese puppetry piece?).
The shock of more and more screens being opened and unfolded draws us into a study of perspective in the space. How far back does the stage go, actually? And how many different puppets are there working in the one space? All these questions are gradually ebbed away by the heady fug of the swirling Shamisen pizzicato and our “narrator” of sorts, a crazed white fox, taking us further and further into Twist’s Dogugaeshi.
Musical collaborator Yumiko Tanaka creates a meditative landscape, and plays the traditional Japanese Shamisen with style. I couldn’t help but wonder why all the music wasn’t live – the use of similar recorded music felt slightly jarring when you have a live musician on stage. Twist and his puppeteers work hard to convey landscapes, characters and a myriad of images from bamboo thickets to party scenes but it was difficult to latch onto a central theme or idea.
The London International Mime Festival is a wonderful way to showcase more unusual work. It can be the chance for London audiences to dive into something completely different – sometimes these chances taken will offer new found delight, sometimes they will remind you why you stick to the things you know. In Dogugaeshi’s case, it is a little of both. Basil Twist has built an absolutely beautiful show, realised in both its delivery and aesthetic. The skill and artistry on display by Twist’s entire team is admirable, but I can’t help but feel the smallest bit unsatisfied by the end. 3/5
Review written by Samuel Clay.
Dogugaeshi is currently showing at this year’s London International Mime Festival at The Pit, Barbican. For more information on the production, visit here…