A TRANSLATION OF SHADOWS
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Thursday 23rd April, 2015
Back in the day, when the Japanese attended the cinema (I’m talking silent movies) they would have the films described for them by a figure called the “Benshi”, who provided not only narration but an interpretation of the cinematic language, decoding its symbolism and so on. The nearest we have today is the director’s commentary on a DVD, I suppose.
Our Benshi for the evening is Craig Stephens who stands at a lectern and wears a bright kimono. He tells us film is an illusion and even details the brand of projector being used. When the film, Shadows, begins, much of what he says is bleeding obvious but then his comments extend beyond what is shown. He even links scenes with descriptive haiku. He fills us in on the biographies of the main actors, their filmographies – We experience movie stars in a kind of duality, as characters and as celebrities; their private lives influence the movies they make and vice versa.
This is all highly amusing – Stephens gives us an affably pompous Benshi – but then the show becomes brilliant, as the Benshi begins to manipulate the action and seeks to interact with the leading lady. She is alone, working late at the office and his shadow is cast on the screen so he is like a presence in the room with her.
He decries the trite, happy ending and attempts to change it. And then – spoilers! – a live actress steps from behind the screen and turns the tables. The Benshi is trapped in the film and the protagonists ride off to their happy ever after.
This is not the usual fare from Birmingham-based Stan’s Café but it is one of their best. Director James Yarker gives us an hour that is entertaining and thought-provoking, funny, sinister and inventive. A Translation of Shadows is an unadulterated pleasure that points up our relationship with the moving image, and how it can seduce us away from reality.