Booted for her inability to sight-read, Yunyu branched out on her own – with a very limited repertoire. “Even though I was allowed to watch really full-on horror movies, I wasn’t allowed to listen to pop music,” she said. “Pop music was bad for you.” Yunyu could listen only to the music of dead people. “Medieval was most appropriate,” she said, half-joking. “Any more recent than that was dangerous.”
As her childhood lacked musical freedom, Yunyu instead took inspiration from her father’s fairy tales. Every night, he would read from the pages of a Brothers Grimm collection – but he would always change the ending. Years on, the result is Twisted Tales – an explosion of musical rebellion unfolding via all the Grimm characters stashed inside of Yunyu’s head.
“The show is half theatre and half concert,” said Yunyu. “For me, I want to see more than just a band – even a very good band. I want to see another layer.” Twisted Tales brings together Yunyu’s storytelling (inherited from Dad) and musical talents (she plays the Gu Zheng – a 36-stringed instrument – amongst others), along with a six-piece band and a VJ.
A host of fairy-tale folk also inhabits Twisted Tales via a video-animation backdrop. “Twisted Tales generates so much visual material,” the songstress continues. “A lot of it will be interaction between the characters and me – kind of like Roger Rabbit on stage.”
Yunyu’s favourite characters are as varied as they are twisted. Goldilocks appears as a serial monogamist, with a whacked concept of “happily ever after” and an attendant entitlement complex. The Pied Piper is a land-dwelling brother of the Greek sirens, whose songs lured sailors onto the rocks. Despite immortality, he’s got to make a living – and he steals children as retribution for an unpaid gig.
“But my very favourite,” Yunyu said, “is Mr Midnight. He’s an overzealous plastic surgeon.” Traditionally, Cinderella leaves the ball before the stroke of midnight, but in Yunyu’s version, Cinders leaves by permission of Midnight – or perhaps by the stroke of his scalpel.
“Mr Midnight watches the girls dancing at the ball, and takes the ones he thinks are getting old and frumpy, and goes to work on them. When they’re perfect, he’ll return them to the dance floor – and they’ll dance until they can’t be fixed.” Mr Midnight fascinates Yunyu, for whom plastic surgery is a pet topic. “What happens to your personality when you spend all day trying to perfect women?” she asks.
With her characters possessing such presence, Yunyu admits: “You don’t go and watch Twisted Tales. You go into that world, and the characters come out to play.”
BY ZENOBIA FROST