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Strange Tales at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
The Traverse Theatre and Edinburgh-based theatre company Grid Iron are each renowned for their innovative productions, so when they get together…!

Not for them, a traditional Christmas story, jingle bells or tinsel, but a series of Chinese stories combining folk tales, martial arts, and the supernatural.

Tattered muslin hangs on the stage and above the seats, some of which are also covered in the fabric, and mist swirls around the auditorium as we wait for whatever is in store for us.

The Traverse is known for being a new writing theatre, but not on this occasion. In fact, it’s unusual for any theatre, unless they are performing Shakespeare, to present on stage for the first time in the UK stories which are 400 years old. So, in a way, it is another first.

Two of the three storytellers, Chinese Luna Dai, and Robin Khor Yong Kuan, a Malaysian Chinese living in London, grew up with these stories, penned by one Pu Songling. He wrote about ghosts, immortals, demons (and foxes!) to illustrate his thoughts on society and government, some of which are still relevant.  

The production is indeed strange. For a subject so unworldly, the storytellers are very much down-to-earth, especially Pauline Lockhart, co-founder of Wildfire Theatre, whose idea it was to do the show. Co-writer and co-director (with Grid Iron’s Ben Harrison), together with Dai and Kuan she unfolds each story as if we’re all having a chat in our sitting rooms. And her pure Scottishness and talent for comedy makes sure we keep our feet firmly on the ground.

However, Ruth Chan’s at times haunting at times thrilling music and Bright Side Studios stunning video designs take us to another dimension as the three storytellers act out their tales...of a ghost who has to fight a demon so she can come back to life and marry a mortal; a man whose pupils leave his eyes to see what he can no longer see; a hideous fiend who takes on a disguise and rips out a man’s heart; a woman who becomes involved in a love triangle with a ghost and a fox spirit....

There are eight tales in all (a lucky number in Chinese), chosen from almost 500. Apart from the graphics they are simply presented, which often makes them a thing of beauty.

Strange Tales is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until December 21.
Box Office: 0131 228 1404
Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan