Strange Tales: 'It's not a Christmas show in the traditional sense, but it does need to have a strong element of magic'

Strange Tales: 'It's not a Christmas show in the traditional sense, but it does need to have a strong element of magic'

credit: Lauren McLay

Co-writer and director Pauline Lockhart and co-creator Ben Harrison discuss Grid Iron's latest production

Pu Songling's Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, since their publication in the eighteenth century have been regarded as a highlight of Chinese classical fiction, even garnering admiration in the west, notably from Kafka and Borges, two authors known for their brilliant short stories. Grid Iron, in association with the Traverse, are adapting some of the tales for a production that follows the tradition of seasonal ghost stories rather than Christmas jollity.

'We were attracted to the theatricality and bizarreness of Pu Songling's tales,' co-writer and director Pauline Lockhart explains. 'Some are beautiful love stories with very strange twists and others just extremely weird. Although written nearly 400 years ago, they still seem so fresh and modern.'

'Some of the stories remind us of the magical realism of some of the very earliest Grid Iron shows, in the way the magic is very close to real actions and life,' adds co-creator Ben Harrison. 'But the strongly different cultural context offers a very different perspective to that of Western theatre. I imagine certain aspects, such as the thin membrane between the world of the living and the world of the dead, will be much more familiar to East Asian audiences.'

Although Strange Tales deals with demons and ghosts, it has both an exquisite, nuanced wit and an undercurrent of political commentary: the author's strong sense of morality took the part of the common people, questioning the corruption of the political systems of the time. For Harrison, the scope of the selected tales demanded a multimedia approach.

'The world of the Tales is so strange and multi-layered, and plays in particular with physical scale so much, that we wanted to draw on the languages of puppetry, illusion and video projection to support the work of the three actors. It's not a Christmas show in any way in the traditional sense, but it does need to have a strong element of magic.'

With Grid Iron's heritage of providing theatre that happily slips outside of conventional structures – recent works have included a raw deconstruction of the court system at the Traverse and they are recognised for their imaginative use of unfamiliar venues and locations – and the power of Pu Songling's narratives, Strange Tales promises to be a lively and eloquent alternative to the jollity of pantomime.

Traverse, Edinburgh, Sat 30 Nov–Sat 21 Dec.

Strange Tales

Written in China centuries ago, Pu Songling’s Strange Tales is now adapted for stage by the acclaimed immersive theatre company Grid Iron in co-production with Traverse Theatre.