Sunday, April 13

Reviews: Live Storytelling

I've been meaning to write some reviews on here, and this seems the perfect place to start. I just need to decide on a format...

What: The Twisting Field
How: Live Storytelling
Who: Nick Hennessey, Simon Heywood, Shonaleigh and Amy Douglas
When: April 2007
Grade: A-

I love story telling. It's something I've grown up with, and not just at bed time. Professional Storytellers are a rarity, and ought to be treasured, which is why when I saw this advertised last year I knew I had to go.

The Twisting Field is the first part of a trilogy about Lugh Lamfhota, an ancient Irish hero. The storytellers have worked with a variety of sources that recorded Irish oral folk tales from around 1000AD (though the tales themselves are manifestly much older) to create their own myth cycle following Lugh and his destiny, and the sons of Tuirenn. The Twisting Field is the first part of the trilogy they're forging.

Now, hands in the air, I didn't realise that when I went to see them last year. Though the show contained a complete tale, it did end rather abruptly, and I remember not being sure what to think. This first part revolves around the prophecy which state that the enemy of Tuatha De Danand, Balor of the Evil Eye, can only be killed by his grandson. Unfortunately, the Tuatha De Danand (Lugh's people) believe that Balor doesn't even have a child, let alone a grandchild, and the prophecy causes a rift between two clans: the sons of Cainte, who believes that the prophecy is their only hope, and the sons of Tuirenn, who believes Balor should be taken by force. The first part ended with the birth of the prophesied grandchild, Lugh, and his adoption by Manannan of the Sea. You can see why I wasn't expecting it to end there.

Since this was over a year ago, I'm a little fuzzy on the details. I remember the seduction of Ethlin, Balor's daughter, and I remember the three sons of Tuirenn having some sort of farm related misadventure. As the first part of a trilogy, it is setting up a great many different elements, but even taking this into account it is a little incoherent at times. The names are unusual (even by Irish standards), and often quite similar, which can make keeping track of the characters a little difficult. The story of the sons of Tuirenn is a myth that some scholars suspect was added to Lugh's story at a later date, and it does feel quite unconnected, especially at this point.

From a performance perspective, I find it very hard to be objective. The storytelling was superb, and the musical segments were beautiful. Perfectly entwined, the shift from one to the other and back was very natural, as was the shift between storytellers. My only minor complaint is that, when singing, the female voices did not always have the clarity required to understand the words; I have this problem with a lot of female singers, and at least they didn't warble, so it's only a very minor complaint.

So, overall, A-. It wasn't perfect, but it's something so special that to see it done well was amazing, and the minor quibbles were absolutely minor.

What: The Middle Yard
How: Live Storytelling
Who: Nick Hennessey and Simon Heywood
When: April 2008
Grade: A-

This is what's prompted me to make the post; last night's performace of the Middle Yard. This is the second part of the trilogy, and followed Lugh's return to Ireland from his foster father's home, the murder of his birth father by the son's of Tuirenn and their subsequent fates. It also revealed to me that this was a trilogy, and things beganto fall into place. I'd been looking forwards to more storytelling regardless, but knowing that it was a continuation of last year's myth I was very happy, because I'd wanted to know what happened next.

This part of the story was much more coherent and linear. Lugh's appearance is a clear set up for confrontation of the third part; most of this episode is taken up by the sons of Tuirenn. The feud that arose in the first part leads to the death of Cian, Lugh's father, and Lugh learns of the sons' crime, but cannot call them on it before the high king (for reasons I wasn't quite sure of, I'm afraid). The sons know he knows, so they volunteer to do the 'real' murderer's penance, and go to seek the treasures of the kings of the world of Lugh's command.

The performace was split in half, with an interval (the same as the Twisting Field), and the second half began with a rather abrupt change in tone; while the first part was relatively serious, the beginning of the sons' quest was played for comedy. The subject matter makes it quite hard to play it any other way, but it jarred with the previous half, and as the quests became more dramatic, the tone swung back to serious again. As with most trilogies, the end of this second part was quite dark and determined, making the short period of comedy stand out even more.

The other main difference between this and the first part is the loss of both female tellers. While the two men carry it very well, I did miss hearing the female voices. It was of no overall detriment, though, and I know this is just personal preference.

So, this part of the trilogy was an improvement over the first because it was easier to understand and to follow, and it had the benefit of the characters being previously introduced. Both parts of the trilogy could be viewed on their own, though both make mre sense when accepted as one of three. My only complaint is the odd shift in tone, which I think would stand out in the trilogy as a whole, but again, it's a small complaint, so, A-.

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