I have always loved folk-tales. The tales I was brought up with included of course
those collected by the Brothers Grimm, of which my favourite was ‘The Juniper Tree’,
principally because of its pathos and the chilling little song that the bird sings:

My mother, she killed me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.

The folk-tales I like aren’t all grim or Grimm. ‘The Town Musicians of Bremen’
has a grand comic energy, but so do the English tales ‘Tom Tit Tot’ (the
English ‘Rumpelstiltskin’), particularly the wonderful version in Essex dialect, and ‘The
King o’ the Cats’. But – no doubt it is a fault in my nature – it is usually the saddest,
eeriest or bloodiest tales I like best: ‘Yallery Brown’, which is about a malicious boggart
who destroys the man who saved him; ‘The Black Bull o’ Norroway’, with its sad refrain
Seven lang years I served for thee,/ The glassy hill I clamb for thee,/ The bluidy shirt I
wrang for thee;/ And wilt thou no wauken and turn tae me. And then there are tales in the
form of ballads like ‘Lamkin’, which tells how the mason Lamkin murders Lord
Wearie’s child and wife (Then Lamkin’s tane a sharp knife/ That hang doun by his gaire,/
); ‘Tam Lin’, in which Janet – who is perhaps my favourite heroine of all – rescues her
lover from the Queen of the Fairies; ‘Lady Isobel and the Elf Knight’, which has another
grand heroine; and ‘The Great (or Grey) Silkie o’ Sule Skerry’, about a seal who fathers a
child on a woman, with versions from Shetland and Orkney: I am a man upo’ da lan’/ I
am a silkie i’ da sea/ An’ whin I’m far frae ivera stran’/ My dwellin’ is in Sule Skerry…
When they have not been worked over by someone with literary pretensions, folk-
ales have a wonderful directness, and Japanese tales are no exception. They, too, can be
comic, eerie, bloody and grim. So I am very happy indeed to have a small part – or two
small parts, really, one living and one posthumous – in this production.