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Doubtful Sound presents Hinohara Village at Barons Court Theatre

Travelling in a torrential rainstorm across London in pursuit of fanciful and mysterious Japanese folktales set expectations high, and Doubtful Sound’s Hinohara Village did not disappoint.

Doubtful Sound presents Hinohara Village
Doubtful Sound presents Hinohara Village

The house was packed and throughout this one-hour show, the audience was rapt. Fans of Manga will recognise the common source material of the legends conveyed within the performance by a cast of two and enhanced with glorious singing and Japanese musical instruments from Sherry Sugita. Tales of the ‘Yamumba’ (a terrifying, mad-haired mountain witch) open the show with matter-of-fact telling of freakish features, dark origins and a sense of sympathy for the outcast. Writer, translator and literary critic Rebecca Copeland has described the archetypal power of the Yambumba as “combining fear of women with fear of the extraordinary — the long-lived and the solitary. Her connection with mountains only accentuates her association with mystery and the mercurial forces of nature.” Indeed, Hinohara Village works on multiple levels. It manages to curate and convey its stories as simultaneously playful and dark — but with a less obvious dose of the advisory as per the Brothers Grimm (and no immediate call for Bruno Bettelheim’s psychoanalysis despite its enchanting impact!).

My 11-year-old co-critics were captivated throughout (whereas I found the telling, as with bedtime stories, relaxing and a little hypnotic after a long day). I was amazed by how both my children recalled the names and plot details of the stories presented – their attention never wandered. Some of the tales are jollier and indeed funny, whereas others suggest a gruesomeness reminiscent of the European gothic tradition. The show successfully weaves a pleasing texture of different tones – it is neither relentlessly terrifying nor monotonously happy-go-lucky; instead, it is compelling throughout. The complexity of co-existing malevolence and benevolence is what makes these tales interesting and timeless.

The lighting is simple – as a travelling fringe show requires – but effective. Making use of the black box basement (a literal cave under a pub), the translated text is projected on the rear wall as the cast tells a story in the original Japanese which adds an extra dimension.

Accessibly priced and intriguing, Hinohara Village is an entertaining 60 minutes. I would not recommend it for children younger than about 8 years of age, but for older children and tweens – especially those who are fans of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki thanks to the theatrical adaption of My Neighbour Totoro or the blockbuster release of The Boy and the Heron, Doubtful Sound’s Hinohara Village is a compact and mesmerising gem.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

In an untouched mountainous area of Tokyo prefecture, there’s a village called Hinohara – a quiet place except perhaps for a cursed execution tree, a necromantic cat, and hairy ogre women.

Doubtful Sound presents
Hinohara Village
27 February – 2 March 2024


  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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