Brighton Festival 2016

Brighton rail station


Top: Brighton railway station, built in 1840; Bottom: Brighton from the train


It has been a while since I have visited Brighton, and the annual Brighton Festival (6th – 28th May) gave me a perfect excuse to revisit this popular coastal city.

The trick to train travel in the UK is to book as early as you can – which was what I did – and I got a bargain for my day return ticket from London. I also managed to book ‘The Encounter’, a play by Simon McBurney/ Complicite which was sold out for weeks at the Barbican in London.

These days, it is almost impossible to book tickets for popular performances and activities in London; it is a sign that the city is getting over-populated. Thus, if you really want to see a sold-out performance/ concert, check to see if they are performing in other cities, chances are you are more like to find tickets (and cheaper) outside of London.


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brighton shop  bookshop

brighton signage

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The city of Brighton


Arriving in the morning gave me some time to wander around the city centre, and the famous seafront. The weather forecast predicted an overcast day, which turned out to be wrong (again); and although I was pleased to see the sun, I felt as if I was taking a sauna underneath my several layers of clothing!


brighton seafront

brighton seafront

brighton seafront

brighton seafront

Brighton seafront



brighton dome

brighton dome

brighton dome  brighton dome

Top: The Royal Pavilion; the rest: the exterior and interior of Brighton Dome


At the 50th Brighton Festival this year, American avant-garde artist, musician, film director and wife of the legendary Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson was invited to be the guest director. And one of the highlights of this year’s festival is ‘Lou Reed Drones’ at the The Spire in St Mark’s Chapel.


the spire brighton

lou reed drones

Lou Reed Drones at The Spire, St Mark’s Chapel


Visitors are provided with earplugs before entering the chapel, and they are warned about the loud noise level of the installation. Inside the chapel, the religious space is transformed into a place of worship for rock music and Lou Reed fans!

The installation comprises guitars and amplifiers owned by Lou Reed, and a feedback loop is created with each guitar and its respective amplifier. The loud guitar drone sound aims to give visitors a visceral, emotional and spiritual experience in a setting that is not usually associated with rock music.


the lighthouse brighton  brighton festival

the lighthouse brighton

Top left & bottom: The Sprawl (Propaganda about propaganda) at Lighthouse


At the Lighthouse, award-winning Dutch artists and filmmakers Metahaven presents an immersive video installation The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda). Working with cinematographer Remko Schnorr and electronic musician Kuedo, they take ‘a deeper, stranger look’ at how the internet has opened the floodgates for multiple interpretations of truth, as influenced by aesthetics, convention, and agenda.


attenborough centre for the creative arts

Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts


After an alfresco lunch in the city, I headed to the campus of University of Sussex by train to see matinee performance of ‘The Encounter’. Upon arrival, I was immediately struck by the newly renovated and Grade II listed Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, designed by Sir Basil Spence. The building was closed in 2007 for refurbishment, and only reopened last year. The public performance programme was launched this spring, and so I was lucky to enjoy the state-of-the-art auditorium for an immersive sound-focused show.

Despite the hype, I was slightly disappointed with Simon McBurney’s solo show, and I overheard similar complaints while queuing inside the washroom after the show. Technically speaking, it is almost faultless; and it is accompanied by a thought-provoking narrative and accomplished acting. However, the show is more than 2 hours long (with no interval), and the last 30 minutes just dragged on… this is a real shame because the show would have been perfect if it is not as long!


The Grand Hotel Brighton


Top row: The Victorian Grand Hotel, Bottom row: Hilton Metropole Hotel


After the show, I headed back to Brighton and walked along the seafront towards Hove to see the next performance that I had booked earlier. As I was walking along, I couldn’t help but admire the stunning architecture en route. Aside from the magnificent Grand Hotel, designed by architect John Whichcord Jr. in 1864; there are also many intriguing modernist architecture nearby.


bedford hotel

odeon kingwest brighton

Embassy Court Brighton

Van Alen Building brighton

brighton seafront art deco

Top row: Bedford Hotel (Holiday Inn); 2nd row: Odeon Kingswest; 3th row: Embassy Court; 5th row: Van Alen Building – a neo art deco style flats completed in 2001; Bottom row: the art deco style Alfresco restaurant


One of them is the 17-storey Bedford Hotel (Holiday Inn) designed by Swiss-British architect, R. Seifert and Partners (who also designed the Centrepoint in London) in 1967. The brutalist style building is probably enjoying a revival now as brutalism is back in the spotlight in recent years. And not far from it is another brutalist structure – Odeon Kingswest, designed by architects Russell Diplock & Associates in 1973, as part of a larger redevelopment plan. Many locals think this building is hideous, but I find it quite enthralling, especially the pointy pyramidal/ geometrical castellations on the roof edge. It looks so out of place and intrusive, but it carries a notion with cultural significance in the city’s history.

Further down the seafront is the Grade II listed Embassy Court designed by Wells Coates in 1935. The 11-storey Modernist apartment block has features associated with the movement including curved corner, recessed upper storeys and concrete framing. Originally designed as a luxury flats, the building’s high-class status declined from the 1970s, and it was close to being demolished until Sir Terence Conran‘s architectural practice was hired in 2004-5 to restore it back to its former glory.


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hove seafront

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Brighton and Hove seafront


Walking towards Hove, the landscape becomes dominated by Regency architecture. It is hard to miss the conspicuous Grade II listed Adelaide Crescent. Building work of the 250-acre estate started in 1830, but construction work was stopped and the original design was modified, and it was eventually completed in the mid-1860s.


hove regency architecture


Adelaide Mansions



Top row: Adelaide Crescent; 3rd row: Adelaide Mansions is a Grade II listed residential building designed by Thomas Lainson and built in 1873; 4th & 5th rows: The Grade II listed Kings House was built in 1871-1874 by James Knowles.


I knew very little about the show that I was going to see – except that it is an outdoor performance about belonging, migration and the fleeting nature of what surrounds us.

Belonging(s) is a creation by artistic director and choreographer, Maresa von Stockert from Tilted Productions. The performance combines contemporary dance, physical theatre and a lot of props like vinyls and cardboard boxes. The show features 9 main performers, and incorporates more than twenty local participants who duck in and out of the action.

The show is ambitious, playful, spontaneous and experimental. However, it is also over-long (theme of the day), confusing, and a bit amateurish. At times, the audience was unsure of where to go or who to follow after each act, and there were many awkward transitional moments.

There is no narrative to the performance, so it is not a piece that requires the intellect. Yet the piece fails to deliver all the complex messages that the director wishes to convey, despite the imaginative use of props and some interesting dance choreography.


Belonging(s) by Tilted productions  Belonging(s) by Tilted productions

Belonging(s) by Tilted productions

Belonging(s) by Tilted productions

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Top four rows: Belonging(s) – an outdoor dance and theatre performance by Tilted productions


I particularly liked the last seafront location of the performance, but it was getting windy and cold (finally, I was glad to have brought a coat), and I had lost my interest by then. As the group moved further down the seafront, I decided to quietly move towards the opposite direction and head back to the centre.


hove seafront

hove seafront


On the train back home, I felt completely exhausted. In some ways, I wish I had stayed overnight because I felt like there was much more to do and see. But I thoroughly enjoyed my fun and slightly jam-packed day out in Brighton, and I would most certainly return again in the future.


Live animation workshop with The Paper cinema

paper cinema workshop

The Paper cinema at work


As a fan of paper, puppetry and animation, I was feeling quite ecstatic when I found out about a one-day live animation workshop with The Paper cinema at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington.

Famed for their charming ‘Odyssey’ show premiered in 2012, The Paper Cinema was founded in 2004 by Nicholas Rawling, Imogen Charleston and Christopher Reed. The company combines illustrations, puppetry, theatre, music and animation for their storytelling performances. The illustrations are manipulated in front of the video camera and projected onto the large screen alongside with live music. I had not seen their show before the workshop, but fortunately I did get the chance to see their one-off fund raising performance a few weeks later.


paper cinema

Nicholas Rawlings amazing illustrations


There were around 30 people at the workshop, which was larger than I expected, and a majority work in the theatre or creative industries. Nicholas and Imogen first performed a short piece of work, followed by an explanation of their techniques and a Q & A session. Afterwards, Nicolas showed us his superb and intricate sketches, and asked us to split into small groups in order to work on our own short animations.


paper puppet workshop  paper puppet workshop

Our team’s illustrated handheld puppets


For the rest of the afternoon, my team of four (including a children’s book illustrator) developed a story line and created our paper puppets based on the advice given by Nicolas and Imogen. Imogen also demonstrated many techniques and ‘tricks’ that helped us to incorporate into our short animation piece.

The most exciting part of the day was when each team performed their short animations in front of each other. The results were fascinating as we all had different illustrated styles and story lines; but all in all, it was fun, entertaining, and we all had a blast!

Workshops like these remind me of being a child – when we were asked to be as creative as possible, but at the same time, we had to divide work equally among team members. Learning to collaborate with others is crucial as four minds are more likely to create unexpected surprises than just one! I often find working solo extremely isolating, and so there is much joy in taking part in workshops like these from time to time.


battersea arts centre  battersea arts centre

battersea arts centre  battersea arts centre

odyssey by paper cinema

Top 2 rows: Battersea arts centre after the fire; Bottom row: The last scene of ‘Odyssey’


A few weeks after the workshop, I attended the special fund-raising performance of ‘Odyssey’ at the Battersea arts centre for Good Chance Calais and Medecins sans Frontieres – two organisations that are helping refugees in Calais.

Coincidentally I saw the show ‘Fiction’ with a friend at the Battersea Arts Centre about a year ago (just days before the fire), so it felt good to return to the theatre and see the progress of the renovation works.

As much as I enjoyed the show, I couldn’t help being captivated by Nicolas and other musicians working in front of the screen. I think the workshop has inspired me to want to learn more about puppetry, and I hope that I will get the opportunity to develop some new skills in the future.


The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey (Trailer) from The Difference Engine on Vimeo.



London Mime festival 2015 & more

While I am still sorting out my photo collection and blog entries on Portugal, I shall review some amazing performances that I saw after my holiday at the London International Mime festival in January. Luckily, I had pre-booked the tickets in advanced, because most of the shows I saw were sold out weeks before the performances.

The first show I saw was ‘Plexus’ at Sadlers Wells, conceived by French artistic director Aurélien Bory (founder of Compagnie 111) for the extraordinary Japanese classically-trained ballet dancer Kaori Ito.

The description of the show is as follows: “Entrapped by five thousand cords, a forest of brilliantly lit strings, a warrior-woman conquers her environment so that she floats, like a black angel, in a sumptuous cage that she can only leave by vanishing completely.”

The above paragraph basically sums up the show. Ito spends most of the performance being ‘trapped’ within the stage set of five thousand cords, where she uses her body to explore the space and her body limits. Ito is utterly mesmerising to watch, but my opinion, it is the stunning set design and visual effects that steals the show. There is no narrative to this poetic and beautiful piece, but it is so visually compelling that one is not necessary. It is an artistic and creative triumph for both Bory and Ito.


 Plexus / Compagnie 111 / Aurélien Bory / Kairo Ito


I had no idea what was in store at ‘Dogugaeshi‘, except that it is inspired by traditional Japanese folk puppetry. Basil Twist is a third generation Americian puppeteer who has worked for films, operas, Broadway shows, and collaborated with Kate Bush on her comeback concert in 2014.

I was kinda expecting to watch a puppetry performance, possibly with a narrative. Yet the puppetry turns out to be the side dish, whereas the backdrop screens are the main course. What a pleasant surprise! There is only one puppet (a white fox with a very long tail) and not much of a narrative; what the audience sees throughout the performance is merely a constant changing of paper door screens and wall patterns, which is unexpectedly mesmerising. The abstract piece is accompanied by live shamisen music performed by Japanese musician Yumiko Tanaka.

The name ‘Dogugaehi‘ literally means ‘changing, or exchange of props‘ in Japanese. This stage mechanism serves as a backdrop to the traditional folk puppet theatre originated on the Awaji island at the beginning in the 16th or 17th century. Video projection is one of the modern elements that Basil Twist injected into his version of this traditional craft, and it works wondrously. The piece captures the intrinsic essence of the tradition, and it is an intriguing succession of visual experiences, which is refreshing and rare to see in western theatre.


Dogugaeshi by Basil Twist


It is hard to summarise ‘32 Rue Vandenbrandenby Belgian’s dance theatre group Peeping Tom. It is surreal, fun, bizarre, dark, and rather confusing. The hypersurreal setting and odd/dysfunctional behaviour of the six cast members seem to capture the audience’s imagination initially, but as it turns darker and more subdue, the plot becomes weaker and the ending is an anticlimax which I think is a real shame. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by the actors/dancers; their physical capabilities are remarkable and their use of body language reveals that speech is not always necessary in getting ideas across, even if they are exaggerated or make no sense!


32 Rue Vandenbranden by Peeping Tom


Besides the London Mime festival, I also saw two excellent dance performances elsewhere in London. The first was a triple bill dance performance by K-Arts dance company, established by Korea National University of Arts in 1997. The performance took place at Laban Theatre, which is part of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music and dance in Greenwich.

The three performances of the evening were: ‘Hommage‘, ‘Reflection‘ and ‘No comment‘. ‘Hommage‘ is a piece that explores the traditional ‘bow’ of the eastern culture; it is a ‘fusion’ (I am not a fan of this term) of eastern culture, philosophy and metaphor (Buddhism) with contemporary choreographed dance movements. It is a subtle, beautiful and supple.

Reflection‘ is short improvisation piece created by the dancers (mostly female), exploring his or her body movements and expressions in a unique way. The last piece ‘No comment‘ is the most exhilarating of the three, performed by a all-male cast (who ended up running topless off stage). One notable aspect of this piece is the music, the tracks used are ‘Ali Mullah‘ by Transglobal Underground and ‘Babylon‘ by Goran Bregovic (one of my favourite contemporary composers). This is a truly ‘global’ piece with dancers showcasing their technical skills, vigorous style and six-pack bodies!

The diversity and originality of the three pieces reveal the standard of contemporary Korean dance today, and it is truly thrilling. One of the strongest aspect for me personally is the choreography, I think the subtle infusion of eastern philosophy and culture is evident even in the seemingly modern pieces, but without the cliches. This show was an eye-opener for me, and I hope that I will get more opportunities to see young Koreans dancers performing on stage in London again soon.


Can a dance performance which debuted in 1987 still excite the audience 28 years later? The answer is YES, as seen in ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ performed by Belgian’s dance company Ultima Vez founded by choreographer/ Photographer/filmmaker Wim Vandekeybus.

With a new cast and live music by contemporary ensemble Ictus, the award-winning debut piece performed for two nights only at Sadlers Wells as part of their world tour. Divided into several acts with no interval, the adrenaline-fuelled performance is not only exciting, it is raw, innovative, playful and unsettling. There is so much going on on stage that I could do with an extra pair of eyes to follow everything that is happening at once.

I am amazed by the fact that it still feels so fresh and modern after so many years. One of the highlights of the show is at its very end after the applause, when three members of the musical ensemble come on stage to perform without any musical instruments. What a perfect finale to an unforgettable show!


Ultima Vez — What the Body Does Not Remember



Mimetic festival 2014 & Nothing

old vic tunnels old vic tunnelsThe vaults


Around this time last year, I saw a few puppetry performances at the Suspense festival (see my previous blog entry here), but for some reason, the festival is not taking place this year. However, all is not lost as there is Pie’s Mimetic Festival, a two week celebration of the emerging devised, physical and visual theatre, mime, puppetry and cabaret.

The last time I visited the Old Vic tunnels was when my friend and I saw the immersive and theatrical show by the cabaret group Boom Boom Club about 2 years ago. Now this unique and atmospheric venue has been transformed into an arts platform and renamed The Vaults with several theatre spaces, gallery, bar and a screening room filled with deck chairs.


The vaults


As always, I found it hard to pick from an interesting array of performances, but I settled to see two within one evening. The first one I saw was “First Draft” created by Open Heart Surgery, and brilliantly performed by the two young and talented Charlotte Baseley and Louise Callaghan.

Open Heart Surgery Theatre is a new London-based physical theatre company founded by two Canadian theatre artists. Their show, “First Draft” is inspired by conversations about war and E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stop”, which explores a fast-paced world in contrast to a future world that exists in a protection unit far away from the Earth’s surface. The two performers play a multitude of characters, and they provide many sweet, amusing and provocative moments throughout the show. However, I feel that the show is trying to convey too many ideas and messages; though many of them are undeveloped, which is a shame because I really enjoyed the performances by the two young actresses. The concept ‘less is more’ applies to not only in design; in this case, the show would be much better if less ideas and messages are crammed into such a short performance time.

‘Buddhism: is it just for Losers?’ from Silvia Mercuriali & Matt Rudkin on Vimeo.


The second show was “Buddbism: Is it just for losers?” created and performed by Brighton-based company, Inconvenient spoof. I have to admit that it was the title that grabbed by attention when I was looking at the programme. And funny enough, the show’s creator, Matt Rudkin did mention why he chose this title at the end of the show.

This show is fun, satirical and bonkers, and it captures what British humour is all about. Having lived in the States for a few years, I realised that although the British and Americans share the same language, everything else seems miles apart especially when it comes to humour. In fact, not that many Americans ‘get’ the British houmour, and I cannot imagine this play being produced by none other than a Brit!

The show is about Matt Rudkin, whose mind is full of rational thoughts; he just can’t help thinking and analysing everything and so he has to see alternative therapy to ‘cure’ this symptom. A very intriguing and ‘current’ topic for a theatre show.

I think the first half of the show is more engaging, whereas the second half is slightly loose and inconsistent. Having said that, it is still a hilarious and thought-provoking show with excellent performances and creative use of props, costumes and puppetry.

Throughout the show, there is no mention of Buddhism until the very end, only at the sharing session! Having been to many Buddhist groups and retreats, I am familiar with the terms they use, and so I found the inside jokes particularly hilarious. I suspect that Matt is a practitioner, but it’s interesting that he is able to step back and poke fun at the practice (though not in a nasty way). Not only do they mention John Cage‘s silent piece, 4′33″, they also invite the audience to meditate with them. I have never meditated at a theatre performance before, but I guess there is always a first time for everything!


The vaults camden people's theatre

Left: Pi’s bar at The Vaults; Right: Preshow at the Camden People’s theatre including audience and performers


I have read quite a lot of positive reviews about “Nothing”, an award-winning play by a new graduate company, Barrel Organ from the University of Warwick. This is their debut show and it is series of eight monologues spoken by characters feeling a disconnect with the world around them, and is performed in a fresh and unrehearsed order. Upon arrival at the Camden People’s theatre, the audience (and performers) would wait in the cafe area, and later be led into a room of random seating. A member of the audience is then asked to pick a number and a name out of three, then the named performer who is sitting among the audience would start the monologue.

Throughout the show, seemingly random people among the audience would suddenly start talking, move around the room and at times, monologues would even overlap. This refreshing way of performing is highly engaging because you are never quite sure if the person next to you or opposite you is a performer or not. The show is simple and yet inventive, and the monologues are related to issues that young people are facing today and our dysfunctional society. Interestingly, the performers are dressed as themselves (they all carry bags and coats like the rest of the audience) and they use their real names, so this breaks down the barrier between the performers and the audience. And since the first monologue is chosen by the audience, the order of the show is never the same and the performers would improvise a new cut with every performance. This style also captures the ephemeral and transitory quality of theatre brilliantly.

It is always encouraging to see creative work produced by new voices and talents, I will certainly look forward to seeing the company’s future productions.


The Mimetic festival is running until 29th November at The Vaults, Leake St London SE1 7NN.



SIRO-A in London



I remember seeing the promotional poster for the Japanese multimedia theatrical performance group SIRO-A in London last year, and it triggered my interest to see the show. But as always, with so much happening in this city, it is easy to miss events even if you made a mental note of it.

Thankfully, and to my pleasant surprise, I was invited to the preview of the show this year, their third successive year in London. I have heard a lot of praises for the award-winning group ( it won Mervyn Stutter’s ‘Spirit Of The Fringe’ award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011) prior to the show, but I didn’t want to set my expectation too high in case of disappointment. Now I can honestly say that the group deserves all the praises and I enjoyed the show immensely!


SIRO-A siro-a


Often described as Japan’s answer to the Blue Man Group, SIRO-A composed of 6 male members is unlike anything that I have seen before. The name itself reveals something interesting, aside from ‘white/colourless’ (hence, they all perform with white faces), it also means ‘Belong to no group, impossible to be define as anybody’. The show fuses stunning digital-generated visual effects with choreographed mime, dance, and electro music.

It is hard to write a review on this show because there is so much packed in the hour-long show. Normally, I don’t like to use the term ‘mind-blowing’, but in this case, it is quite fitting since the show stimulates the audience’s sensory system in every way. If I have to dissect the show for this review, I would categorise into three parts: visual effects, sound & light and performance & dance.

Perhaps it is due to my design background, what stands out for me most is the show’s strong and bold use of graphical visuals. The Japanese have always been known for their excellent graphic design and innovative digital graphics, and this show demonstrate it perfectly. My favourite section is the group’s homage to the cinema when the performance is acted out in accordance to the bold typography that appears on the screen behind. It is humourous, clever and highly creative.



Admittedly, I am not that into techno music ( though I did listen to YMO when I was younger and was a big fan of Ryuichi Sakamoto), but the music here works well with the digital graphics and the overall tone of the show. It is dynamic, upbeat, and accompanied by lots of flashing lights, so it makes you feel like you are inside a club except that you are not permitted to stand up and dance.

If we remove all the show’s cool technology, we are left with the core, which is the performance itself. And I am glad to say that the four front performers (with two at the back in charge of video and music) are superb, they are well-synchronised, skillful and precise (this is crucial when they have to interact with the images behind them). But best of all, the audience can feel their energy and playfulness, which is extremely infectious. And the last section involves the audience’s participation, which makes the show more interactive and engaging.



The show is suitable for all ages, it is cool, fun, entertaining and stimulating. It is not a show that requires intellectual debate, so you just have to go and enjoy the ride. My only complaint is more to do with the venue, because I think it needs to be performed in a more spacious and contemporary setting. The traditional setting with narrow velvet red seats in a dark basement is more suited for cabarets or musicals, but not a technodelic show like this. I hope that the organiser will change the venue to a more suitable one next year, perhaps they can consider the legendary Ministry of Sound?


SIRO-A will run until 11th Jan 2015 at Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London, WC2H 7BX.

Japanese cultural events in London

Being one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in the world, it is easy to find different arts and cultural events in London including many Asian-related ones.

Since June I have attended several Japanese cultural events which offer a glimpse of the past, current and future arts scene in Japan. As someone who sources from different parts of Asia, it is not just the designs that matter, but understanding the culture, people and habits is equally important to what I do.

Firstly, I went to see a new play “Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich” by Japan’s most exciting theatre director, Toshiki Okada at the LIFT festival. Interestingly, the play was shown at Artsdepot in North Finchley, which is a very ‘off’ West end theatre location!

Okada founded the company, chelfitsch in 1997, and the name is the baby-like disarticulation of the English word “selfish.” It is meant to evoke the social and cultural characteristics of today’s Japan, not least of Tokyo.


A clip of the play on Youtube (with commentary in Italian)


Set in a typical Japanese convenience store (where I spent most of my pastime when I am in Japan), the play takes a darkly humorous glance at Japanese consumerism through slacker language, meditative movement accompanied by J-pop and J. S. Bach. Okada‘s theatrical language is unique, bizarre and its intentional sluggishness is probably not be everyone’s cup of tea (judging from the audience’s reactions).

I am not sure if it was due to the language or subtitle issue, but I felt that something was lost in translation. There were some humourous and capitivating moments but there were also confusing and boring moments. I thought the concept sounded better on paper but the play somewhat failed to deliver what it promised.


seiichi hayashi seiichi hayashi

Seiichi Hayashi in conversation with Ryan Holmberg


Seiichi Hayashi is a legendary illustrator and manga artist in Japan, so I was excited when I found out the artist was in town to talk about his work. The talk with Dr Ryan Holmberg (an art and comics historian) took place at Japan Foundation and it was as expected, a sold out event!

In Japan, Hayashi is most famous for his illustrations feauring a young girl in kimono (see below) for Lotte‘s Koume plum candies, which debuted in 1974 and are being used 40 years later! He has been a leading figure in the avant-garde cultural scene of late 1960s and early 1970s Tokyo, and was a regular contribuor to the iconic manga magazine Garo.


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Lotte’s Koume candies, available at the Japan centre in Piccadilly


It was interesting to hear the artist talked about his previous projects, spanning from illustrations, comics, animations to art etc. Yet what struck me most was when Hayashi said that he doesn’t like to repeat himself, so he is always exploring new territories. And this I think is the most crucial mindset for any one who in the creative industry (to break boundaries and test new grounds), despite how old or successful you are.


macoto murayama macoto murayama

Macoto Murayama’s talk at the Japan Foundation


The second event I attended at the Japan Foundation was a talk by a young Japanese digital artitst, Macoto Murayama. Murayama first studied architecture before switching to design and information systems.

Murayama‘s passion for plants, traditional botantical illustrations and 3-d graphics has allowed the artist to develop work that is truly unique and beautiful. His detailed dissections of flowers and plants in digital format are not so different from architect’s blue prints of buildings. Interestly, the artist does not rely solely on technology during his design process, he actually begins the process by using traditional methods like dissecting and sketching (see video below).


An interesting behind-the-scene video of the artist’s design process by Autodesk in San Francisco


Murayama‘s work reveals what can be achieved with digital technology and the possibilities of adopting and applying it in other fields. Murayama spent six months of 2013 living and working at Metal Culture in Southend-on-Sea working on UK indegenous flowers. Now the results are being presented at a new exhibition, “Botech Compositions: New work by Macoto Muryama in Metal Culture’s Liverpool base, Edge Hil Station for the first time in the UK. The exhibition is part of the Liverpool Biennale and will be on display until 26th October.


Macoto Murayama and Lenta, “Botech Composition-1” by Frantic Gallery & Abandoned Audio

Suspense: London Puppetry Festival 2013

puppet theatrepuppet theatre puppet theatre

The floating Puppet theatre Barge in Little Venice


I have previously written about puppetry because I am rather fond of this traditional art form. When I found out about the London Puppetry Festival a few weeks ago, I was quite eager to take the opportunity to see some contemporary puppetry shows.

First, I saw “The Fantasist” by Theatre Témoin ( founded in Toulouse in 2007 by graduates of the London International School of Performing Arts), partly because it received very positive reviews by the press. The subject matter is rather dark yet ‘contemporary’… a story about a woman who suffers from bipolar disorder and her illusions inspired by personal experiences. The lead actress ( Julia Yevnine) succeeded in keeping the audience engaged throughout, and allowwed us to embark with her on an emotional journey. Excellent performance and imaginative plot on a subject that is not easy to tackle. Unfortunately, the two shows that followed were slightly disappointing, even though I love both venues.

I have been to Little Venice on numerous occasions, but I never noticed the Puppet Theatre Barge on the canal, kinda strange considering it has been there for over 25 years already! Not surprisingly, the canal boat theatre is narrow and rather ‘cosy’, but it is a cute and quirky venue for marionette puppetry. However, “All he fears” written by Howard Barker and performed by Movingstage Marionette Company failed to create the same excitement I felt towards the venue. The dark plot about a philosopher and professor who seems to be jinxed largely due to his own pessimism was engaging up to the interval, and then it all went downhill. The storyline was too thin for the 75 min running time, it lost direction in the second part, which was a shame because it could have been better if it was shorter and without the interval.


angel theatreautumn autumn

Little Angel Theatre in Islington & lovely autumn days in London…


A similar problem occurred when I saw Dustpan Odyssey by the famous French company, Compagnie Philippe Genty at Little Angel Theatre in Islington. Again, I was surprised not to have discovered this puppetry theatre ( established since 1961) earlier since it is located right behind Upper Street! The small theatre is lovely and I shall definitely come back again in the future. However, I have slightly mixed feelings towards the fun and entertaining performance based on Homer‘s “Odyssey”; on one hand, I was absolutely amazed by the creative prop choices and spontaneity and skills of the actors, but I felt that the show was slightly too long and it became rather random and tedious towards the end. Yet I was still glad that I saw it as I would never look at corkscrews and dustpans the same way again!


West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre

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I only found out about the West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre when it was about to wrap up, so I dragged my local graphic design friend ( who didn’t even know about this) to visit the site on its last day.

Like I mentioned in my previous blog entry, Hong Kongers are now facing an ‘identity crisis’ and in recent years, locals have been trying to protect their unique local culture and heritage that is disappearing quickly.

Cantonese opera is a traditional Chinese art form, but like many other traditions arts and crafts, its popularity is slowly diminishing. In 2009, Cantonese opera was recognised by UNESCO as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage. Hence, efforts have been put into reviving this art form in recent years by various arts organisations.

Last year, The West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), a developing project that aims to promote arts and culture in Hong Kong, built a temporary bamboo theatre on the site of the Xiqu Centre, which will be dedicated to all forms of traditional Chinese performing arts. This year, the temporary bamboo theatre returned again for three weeks, hosting performances such as Cantonese opera, Chinese dance and contemporary music concerts.


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The proposed Xiqu Centre scheduled to be completed by 2016/ 17.


Outside of the theatre, there were many stalls with traditional craftsmen and young designers/ makers showcasing their crafts and designs. But the most impressive craftsmen of all was paper tearing artist, Uncle Man (Lee Shing Man), who is hailed as “The King of Paper Crafts” in Hong Kong.

Paper tearing is a traditional Chinese folk art, where special characters, pictures or shapes are torn from one single piece of paper without the use of scissors nor pencils. Without formal training, Uncle Man is able to create amazing and detailed art work by hand using recycled paper. My friend and I were completely astounded by Uncle Man’s talent and precision, and I managed to find a video clip online here that showcases his craftsmanship.


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Top left: Handcrafted candies; top right: Hand-torn art pieces by Uncle Man; Main: Uncle Man at work


After wandering for a while, my friend and I decided to go for a drink nearby and we returned in the evening to watch part of the free Cantonese opera performance at the theatre. We were impressed by the construction of the 800-seat bamboo-scaffolding theatre, which was designed by one of my favourite local architects, William Lim, founder of CLS Architects.

As you can see from the photos, the theatre was even more stunning at night, especially with all the red and yellow lanterns hanging up in the air.


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Lastly, I want to mention the design of the free leaflet and DIY paper model being distributed at the venue. It is very well-thought out and it completely captures the essence of the event. Overall, I think the concept, design and organisation of the event was very successful and uniquely Hong Kong, I hope that there will be more similar events to come in the future.


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Free leaftlet and DIY paper model that can be picked up at the venue



Hand stories by Yeung Fai

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Yeung Fai’s Hand stories at Barbican


Can a dying traditional art form be revived? With so many traditional art forms losing their appeal to the younger generation, new ideas and collaborations have to be injected to update and preserve these crafts from disappearing.

Hand stories is a puppetry play that combines traditional skills with contemporary lighting, video and sound effects. It is a autobiography of Yeung Fai ( a fifth generation Chinese puppeteer) and his family history; there is little dialogue throughout, but there is humour, sadness and exquisite skills with a political backdrop, which means this is unlikely to be performed in China.

The highlight of the show for me is the ‘behind-the-scene’ section, when the audience get a glimpse of what goes on off stage, yet we can also see what goes on on stage via a video projection. Though he most touching scene of the all is when Fai lights up the candle and passes it to his French assistant Yoann Pencole, symbolising the passing of his craft to a non-Chinese, non-family apprentice in order to keep the traditions alive (which rarely happens in China). This act, I think is crucial in keeping ancient traditions alive. if every craftsman insisted on keeping their ‘family secrets’ to themselves or family members who might not be intersted in carrying on the family traditions, then these art forms and crafts are most likely to extinguish soon or later.

The weakest part of the show is the angel/ rock ‘n’ roll section, which doesn’t seem to fit in with the overall tone but it’s still encouraging to see new grounds being explored. The political backdrop is highly significant but not over-powering, however, the most daunting aspect is knowing that Fai is one of the very few who managed to escape to tell the tales. How about the rest who didn’t? Presumably, many of the ancient arts and crafts were/ are lost forever.


AN extract of the play from Youtube


There are many countries that still value the art of puppetry and in various parts of Asia, efforts are put into preserving the heritage, crafts and skills of puppetry, but the place that has worked relentlessly to preserve ancient Chinese arts and crafts is not China but Taiwan.

If a non-Chinese person wants to learn and understand more about traditional Chinese arts and crafts, don’t bother heading to China, it is Taiwan where you can find a lot of the traditions being preserved and puppetry is one of them.


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Main & bottom left: The Puppet museum in Lisbon. Right:  Chang Yi Fang’s in Taipei


In Taipei, there is a Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum where you can visit permanent and temporary exhibitions, workshops and see performances at their theatre. There is also a Puppetry Art Centre of Taipei, an annual International puppet festival, theatre companies like Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company and shops like Chang Yi Fang, all working towards making puppetry assessible to everyone including children and foreigners.

Like Fai mentioned in one of his interviews, his most memorable or emotional show experience happened in Taipei, not only because they spoke the same language but also the enthusiasm of the audience was quite overwhelming.

I sincerely hope to see more artists and craftsmen being able to pass on their skills and let the world appreciate the wonders of their arts and crafts.


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 Left & middle: Chang Yi Fang’s in Taipei. Right: Theatre museum in Helsinki


Yeung Fai Hand stories is part of the London International Mime festival and currently showing at Barbican until 19th January.