Yuko Mishima has adapted two traditional Japanese folk tales to the stage in an extravagant and visual style. Busu and the Damask Drum uses Kabuki, Kyogen and Noh theatre to present a playful performance using drama, dance, music, masks and props. Here the audience witness two short shows in one single performance piece. It’s two for the price of one and it sounds like a bargain.
Up first, the audience experience Busu. This is a tragic comedy about a forbidden meal that will cause death to whoever eats it. The performance is an over the top farce, with pantomime like acting and overtly expressive dialogue and gestures. The dialogue itself is delivered in Japanese and English where every line is shouted and there is no place for silence or contemplation. As with the dialogue, the costumes are bright and colourful. The performers look like they are wearing extravagant patchwork quilt kimonos and this causes the players to stand out against the black backdrop. In addition their white painted faces draw on the Japanese Kabuki theatre tradition.They look bold and expressive and add to the comedy of the show.
The second story is the Damask Drum. This melodrama involves a drum that has no beat and how this torments a gardener, who eventually commits suicide. It is a story almost as bizarre as the first one, however in this instance the performers employ masks to express this supernatural mystery and the technique works well.
At just under fifty minutes the show is on the short side and the performers do their best to cram as much craziness into this time frame as possible. Busu and the Damask Drum concludes with a final dance piece (with a J-Pop soundtrack), where the performers ask the audience to turn on their phones in order to take a photograph of the costumes, masks and props. It is a strange conclusion to a strange and enjoyable show.