“A tale about man-eating demons and demon-eating men”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 3 March 2016
Red Demon, written by Japanese playwright Noda Hideki, first performed in English in 2003, is at once humorous, dark, and pensive, raising questions about human nature that are especially unsettling in light of recent global tensions over refugee crises and religious extremism. At this performance, I find myself laughing unrestrainedly at certain witty lines. But it is tinged with guilt as the play encourages the audience to confront their own fears and prejudices against people whom they do not understand. By the end of the play, I am left with a lingering melancholy – it is not the catharsis of Shakespearean tragedy, but more of a dismal sadness at the thought that certain ugly facets of human nature can perhaps never be resolved.
This production of Red Demon by Nine Years Theatre is particularly interesting as it is a clear departure from the company’s previous work, which focuses on Mandarin-translated versions of plays from the Western theatre canon. The aesthetics of this production differ from Nine Years’ previous plays, introducing a much more physical approach to the acting style. This approach does not seem to have worked as well because in Red Demon, the actors seem a little uncomfortable with the workings of physical theatre.
The cast also seem to be thrown off by some of the scenes involving slapstick humour (the comic timing is just off). The performances are stronger in the slower, more reflective scenes where the ensemble members demonstrate their characteristically clear and purposed delivery. Scenes between Fuku (Mia Chee), or “That Woman” as the villagers mockingly refer to her, and Oni (Hang Qian Chou), the Red Demon, are touchingly funny; and Tay Kong Hui gives an especially endearing portrayal of Fuku’s elder brother, the village idiot.
There are issues of translation in this play (translated by Nine Years Theatre into Mandarin). I am uncertain about the decision for Oni to speak at times in gibberish and at times in English, even quoting exact lines from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s well-known “I have a dream” speech. Fuku seems to understand him better when he speaks gibberish than when he speaks English, about which a point can certainly be made. Beyond that, however, Red Demon is a play that would inevitably take on quite varied meanings depending on the language in which it is performed and the cultural context of the viewer.
Perhaps this itself is a message – that as humans we will perhaps never be able to fully understand each other, and that perhaps if we only understood that much, the Red Demon’s ultimate sacrifice would have been worth it.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
RED DEMON by Nine Years Theatre
3 – 13 March 2016
Drama Centre Black Box
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn Chng graduated from the Masters in International Performance Research programme, receiving a double degree from the Universities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Tampere, Finland. She currently freelances and teaches at the LASALLE College of the Arts.