The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery

8 February 2020 /
Creative Arts Napier /
By Anna Soutar

How delightful, to come upon a small performance piece in a quiet corner of the Bay that sets gentle submission against bullying arrogance.

Hideto Ambiguous – the entire story is there in the name, double-sided, identity confusing – is a Japanese troubadour travelling the world telling poetic stories and singing songs and leaping into dances in funny unknown places.

Doll-like in appearance and movement, and making no explanation for his Asian self, his story is spoken in better idiomatic English than I have heard on a stage all summer. He presents a two-sided story, which is sometimes parody, sometimes stereotype, sometimes mockery. The two main characters are small, snivelling, grovelling Benjamin and a sinister older man, tall and arrogant, expressing truism like a ranting dictatorial leader, confidant of his own rightness.

These men are doubles seen back to back, but rather than two sames, what one is the other isn’t: Benjamin crouches submissively, Martyn seems to be much taller than he; Martyn strides, Benjamin shuffles; only when he gets ready to completely undress does he seem to have dominance over the overbearing Martyn in an act of defiant exhibitionism. From the audience, I also felt nervous at this show of independence, relieved but watchful in case he continued past the underpant stage! I was not going to be shocked, more worried that poor grovelling Benjamin might finally be what he did not want to be – undone. The strip is structurally disturbing, the thinner than thin body left with no protection for Benjamin against – what? An “overdose of sublimated delight,” as he calls it.

When he sings we hear a hint of a milky light voice, very quickly submerged in the screech of a rap artist wail. Despite being only a few feet away from us, he doesn’t quite make eye contact, instead it is a rather embarrassed, certainly humble, offering.

Naked he looks even more like a praying mantis, his arms held up in begging mode, slender has become somehow threatening. The dances are insect- or bird-like, arms out like wings drying in the sun. Is this a poem about his own journeys from performance to performance, his actions curiously like improvisation? They seem to be reluctantly laid out for our eyes, averted nearly at a servile bow.

The whole, with its ritualistic qualities and dual tensions, could be taken as an exploration of minority cultural experience, or more simply, humanly perhaps, shows us one little man pitted against the universe.

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