Review: The Splitting of the Mermaid

Posted: July 31st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Here we are at the Edinburgh Fringe and the first show the Devil and I went to see was a preview of Lucy Ayrton’s The Splitting of the Mermaid.

TIM : This was a performance so much my cup of tea that it could have been served in a mug with my name on it. Ayrton updates Andersen’s The Little Mermaid to industrial Hull and takes us from a startlingly totalitarian undersea world to a mechanic’s shop by the promenade. The central character is May, a mermaid longing to bear and raise her own child. She sells her voice to a Sea Witch in exchange for her chance at happiness. But (just like the original) there are prices, conditions and looming tragedy.

Ayrton’s background is as a performance poet and the ease and confidence with which she works her wordplay is amazing. Her rhymes are fresh and vital. As someone approaching this from a performance storyteller’s perspective, I was deeply impressed by her craft. I was also delighted by her staging: simple tricks of light to denote being above or below water or the rising of the sun, and the constant bubbling, musical soundtrack from Superbard.

THE DEVIL: Her Sea Witch had a lurid purple spotlight to denote her undersea hovel. Why don’t I have a special effect in our show?

TIM: Because you are literally a talking snake. You don’t need a special effect.

THE DEVIL: And because you’re cheap.

TIM: Was that your favourite moment, the scene where May makes a deal with the Sea Witch?

THE DEVIL: Hmm. I really liked the bit where they went to Whitby for fish and chips. It felt so laughably mortal. But now I’m hungry. Can we get on with it?

TIM: Of course. There were a few moments where Ayrton’s staging was off, characters switching from right to left as they spoke to one another, but as this was her first preview show in the venue I suspect she’ll have that nailed by the main run. The narrative was gorgeous, and while this is going to be rightly hailed as a feminist piece I was particularly moved by Ayrton’s gentle take on masculine sexuality, devotion and friendship.

THE DEVIL: Actually, I’ve changed my mind about my favourite bit. Andersen’s original has a horrible piece of tagged-on moralising at the end where the Little Mermaid can regain her shape if she does good deeds for 300 years. Or some such vomit-inducing twaddle. My favourite bit was that Lucy got rid of that entirely and left us with some far more artistically credible mer-human drama.

TIM: Good point! Overall, I’d say if spoken word narrative is remotely your thing then this is one to catch at the Fringe in 2014.

Tim Ralphs is a storyteller and his show of urban devilry Rebranding Beelzebub is on every night from 2 August 2014 to 24 August 2014 at 9:50pm in The Banshee Labyrinth. A PBH free fringe performance – you only have to pay what you think the Devil is due.

The Room Behind the Bookcase – Contemporary & Traditional

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Podcast | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Click here to Listen!

Show notes in the comments.

All Things Girl Interview – Exciting Edinburgh News

Posted: March 4th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

By some weird coincidence of gender and timing, I was the January “Man of the Moment” for All Things Girl. Melissa A. Bartell took the time for a lengthy interview and you can read it in full here. I talk about storytelling, my ministry and life stuff in some detail. Here’s an example of one question from it:

MAB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? What advice would you like to pass on to others?

TR: I don’t really hold much with advice. There’s a story about a Rabbi that was famed for his wisdom and insightfulness. He kept two scraps of paper, one in each of his pockets, and his pupils had often seen him consulting them but nobody knew what they said. These pieces of paper were of enormous interest amongst his pupils, and each had a theory about what might be on them.

One day, finally, the pupils could stand it no longer and asked the Rabbi what lessons were so great that he carried them with him all the time. He showed them. On one piece of paper was written: “For me, the whole Universe was created.” On the other: “I am not even a speck of dust before the eye of God.”

The pupils were confused because these writings seemed utterly contradictory and so after some discussion they asked their teacher which, if either, was really true and which held the greater wisdom.

“They’re both completely true.” The Rabbi said. “But no human understanding is perfect, so each can only be good for one pocket.”

That’s how I feel about advice, I guess. That at best, it’s good for one pocket. But I did learn a really important lesson in 2012 when I caught the noro-virus and was as ill as I have ever been. So if I have to give you a single piece of advice from 2012 it would be: “Don’t get gastroenteritis.” (I think your readers probably call it a GI infection.) If I had to give you a single piece of advice from 2013, it would be “If you get the chance, go and see Venice.” We’ve just had our honeymoon there, and it was magical.

One life lesson a year. I think I can about cope with that.

~ ~ ~

EXCITING EDINBURGH FRINGE NEWS! I will telling my show of Urban Devil stories, Rebranding Beelzebub at The Banshee Labyrinth during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August this year. Big shout out to the PHB Free Fringe, without whom this wouldn’t be happening. It’s going to be amazing! Follow the show on twitter by looking for #DevilTM and I’ll keep you updated here with developments. If you’re in Edinburgh for the festival then let me know. It will be my first time at the festival and it would be great to meet up and support one another.

Rebranding Beelzebub: What Superman and The Devil have in common

Posted: June 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

I was tweeting about my latest show, Rebranding Beelzebub, and poet Sarah Thomasin replied to say:

So I thought I’d take a quick moment to unpack exactly how I approach Old Nick in my stories, and why I think the result can be so effective. Via Superman. Because what the hey, it’s my blog, and I’m not really sure anyone reads it.

I was watching one of Movie Bob’s videos lately in which he talked about Superman in the run up to the release of the latest remake. One of the things that Bob says is very revealing.

“In a way flawed, broken anti-heroes like Batman, Dirty Harry, Wolverine, whoever are easier to get right because they give you more layers to work with. But Superman is supposed to be a genuine icon of our potential for ultimate good realised and that kind of character, one who has already obtained complete, uncomplicated goodness to the extent that the development is all about the other characters reacting to him being the real thing, is hard to get right.”

I find Superman pretty hard to engage with as a character. He’s a bundle of super-powers and simple morality. There are very few external challenges he can’t resolve with some combination of his strength, levitation, laser-eyes or time-travelling. There are very few internal conflicts, because Superman is a generic force for good with straightforward priorities. In order to make films interesting, writers tend to introduce villains of equivalent power and opposite morality, be they nuclear-powered Superman clones or trios of Kryptonian war-villains or whatever. (It’s probably clear already that I’m not particularly well versed in comic books, so feel free to educate me if you think I’ve missed something that comes out in that medium.)

In this, Superman and The Devil are very similar. Milton managed to write a story that got to terms with Satan as a character, but only by setting up a central conflict with God. The result is one of the first pieces of art that allows the reader to understand, possibly even empathise, with Satan. Milton’s Satan has a personality, complete with motivations and emotions, that make sense to us as human beings. And that’s one way to approach the Devil, but it isn’t my way. When we “humanise” the Devil I think we lose something of the incomprehensible threat that Lucifer represents. We are distracted from the Devil as the ultimate force of darkness, as a metaphysical mystery. By treating Satan in the same way as the other characters in the story we lose a sense of the separation between mortal and fallen angel.

Which brings us back to Movie Bob and Superman. Instead of being a paragon of goodness, Him Downstairs is the exact opposite morally. But it is possible for the stories to remain grounded in the idea that all the development must come from the characters reacting to such an pure presence.

This, then, is my interpretation of Satan. It isn’t a character in the normal sense. The Devil exists as a force of temptation and corruption. (And the occasionally injection of comedy.) Whether the story is light-hearted, incompetent, petty, sinister or majestic doesn’t matter. The Devil is there to hold the mirror up the other characters, to let us see deep inside them, to find out how they respond to the threat of damnation and the promise of power. The Devil is an opportunity for heroism and calamity.

This approach works particularly well within oral storytelling, where motifs can be the driving force in the story. Does the Devil need exploration and development? No. We already know everything we need to know the moment we catch a glimpse of a cloven hoof.

Rebranding Beelzebub, my latest show, is a collection of traditional Devil stories set within a modern frame. It’s been brewing for a long time: the story of man playing scrabble for his soul has its roots in a conversation I had with Rachel Rose Reid in Belgium in 2008. The idea that the fruit of eternal life was on sale at a supermarket is lifted from work I devised for the Crick Crack Club in 2010. There’s also a lot of new material, some of which will be performed for the first time on Thursday at The Miller, near London Bridge, for June’s Night of the Storyteller.

Come and see it. It’ll be hilarious and darkly diabolical and now you’ll be able to appreciate the unlikely similarities between The Devil and the Man of Steel.