Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Performed by two remarkably versatile and superbly accomplished performers, The Crying Cherry is a hilarious yet loving pastiche of martial arts movies from the often comically absurd kung fu genre from Hong Kong and China to the usually more serious ‘chambara’ or samurai movies from Japan. It is highly imaginative and utterly hilarious physical theatre at its very best with extra vocal inventiveness and, quite uniquely, a generous dash of genuine martial artistry as well.
The lights dim and from the stage wings there comes a low droning "Ooooooo!" which is unmistakably oriental. It is also ever so gently wrong. The audience are laughing before the performers are even on stage. For the next hour, Ian Bok and Maarten Heijmans have the audience by turns agog, entranced and in stitches as they portray belly-laughing samurai, pigeon stepping geishas, giant monsters, old crones and numerous other stock characters from a mix of eastern martial arts movie genres.
Dressed in cheap lycra track suits, both performers deliver physical theatre comedy to perfection. Their bodies and faces are elastic precision power tools finely tuned for service to the gods of comedy. And more! Their vocal performances are equally astonishing, their expert gibberish ranging across a wide variety of gutteral grunts and piping trills as they snap into mutiple male and female roles. And more! The duo also create an authentically ‘eastern’ soundscape by co-opting a variety of ordinary props as well as their mouths to serve as musical instruments – a wooden chair, a metal beer barrel, a length of 2-by-4. And more! The martial skills of these guys are for real, and though turned to comic effect the fight scenes and solo displays, whether using fists and feet or wielding imaginary weapons, are executed with a speed and precision which bears witness to many hours of training in the dojo.
While samurai movies are mostly deadly serious and so may invite a quick and cheap micky-take by those who do not truly appreciate them, kung fu movies already tend towards absurdity and self-parody, sometimes mixing the fights with clever humour as in the movies of Jackie Chan, sometimes with drama and hi-tech fantasy as in ‘Crouching Tiger…’ but mostly they are just plain silly, so to pastiche them with such deadly accuracy and irresistable hilarity as achieved here requires not only a very good sense of comedy but also a sympathetic understanding of what makes the hearts of those movies tick. Clearly Bok and Heijmans have not only trained hard but they have also researched their subject!
As for the story itself: the programme tells us "The legend of The Crying Cherry has been around since the 5th century, during the dynasty of Fuong-Keee, in the valley of Qhuh." Hmmm… so it’s ‘funky’, but will it be funny? The note continues: "It tells the tale of the cursed twins, Anaki and Kitano, who are destined to…" Actually, you don’t need to know the story to enjoy this show. Because the story is really how two incredibly talented performers met at Amsterdam Theatre School in 2004 and created a graduation show which deservedly triumphed at the Prague Festival and is set to win many many more awards at festivals around the world over the next few years.
I must confess I am not a big fan of comedy – I very rarely see and would never review stand-up – and from the blurb and image for this show in the fringe programme I feared it might have been a thin comic ride, getting cheap laughs at the expense of their subject. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although it evokes waves of laughter throughout its 65 short minutes, this is really an intelligent and sensitive comedy homage – a work of love not smugness. I swear I even detected some serious Kurosawa moments! At the start I was suspicious of the too-ready laughter around me, but less than half way through the performance I put down my note book and was sitting forward in my seat, grinning or open-mouthed in amazement. At the end I was instantly on my feet with both hands clapping hard over my head.
I was reminded of the startling impact of seeing Theatre de Complicite perform A Miute Too Late in their early days, in the 80s – only these two guys are possibly funnier and more multi-talented. I’m going to pay to see them at least once more before the end of the festival, and I will eagerly look out for whatever they do next. Whether they continue to work together (and if they do they really should think up a company name!) or whether they pursue individual paths after this show has taken them to glory all around the world, Ian Bok and Maarten Heijmans are sure to become huge stars during the next decade.