Review: Brave and Free

Posted: August 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Today we went to the Scottish Storytelling Centre to check out one of the few traditional storytelling acts in the Fringe Programme – Calum Lykan’s Brave and Free

TIM: That was my first time listening to Calum Lykan. We had a good natter before the show and worked out which other storytellers we knew in common. Storytelling is a small world.

THE DEVIL: Where everyone has sideburns, apparently.

TIM: Oh stop sulking. Lykan is working hard this festival, he’s doing his Brave and Free twice a day and then he’s got an extra show with The Free Fringe called In the footsteps of Giants. Brave is old school storytelling, Calum has a good sized repertoire, he waits to see who turns up, he gets into a bit of patter between stories and his set evolves each time in response to his audience. Today there was quite a wide age range across the children in the audience and that put certain restrictions on what he got to tell. But it was all good, Lykan clearly has a deep affection for his material and he’s an energetic, powerful teller. And I had the delight of hearing a few new tales, which is always a treat.


TIM: Do you really have nothing to say? We’re meant to do these reviews together. If you don’t contribute then I’ll reveal why you’re in such a bad mood.

THE DEVIL: Why don’t you tell them about the spurtles?

TIM: Ah yes, the spurtles! One of the easy traps to fall into with telling isolated short stories is that you can end up visiting a lot of different story worlds. Lykan avoided this by keeping everything tightly tied to the same Scottish landscape. (The one tale he told from outside the Scots tradition he adapted to the setting.) It makes it much easier to carry people for over an hour. I was also particularly impressed with how he re-incorporated imagery from one tale to the next. For example, in one story he featured a man who made spurtles for a living – porridge stirring sticks – and then every other story where porridge was mentioned would reintroduce the spurtle. This recursion of motifs and imagery can be fundamental to feature length pieces, but it’s tricky in a set that is being put together on the fly and Lykan did well.

THE DEVIL: Reincorporated imagery? You liked it because you like the word ‘spurtle’. It appeals to your simple mind.

TIM: And the reason The Devil is in such a bad mood is because he noticed how careful Lykan was being to ensure his kilt didn’t lift up as he span, so he snuck onto stage to try and catch a peek at some authentic Scottish undergarments. But Calum was so animated in his telling that he stamped on Satan’s tail in his enormous stompy boots. And now the Infernal Majesty is bruised.

THE DEVIL: I think it’s broken, actually. I may not be able to make our opening night tomorrow.

TIM: For me, Brave and Free was like something out of my childhood. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a storyteller just tell some stories without trying to fashion things together into a show. It’s nice to recall how important repertoire is to the storytelling craft. And, because this is exactly the form of storytelling that I first encountered as a child, it was a pleasure to be in the audience with children of about the same age as I was back then.

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.

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.

Vicky Ellis reviews “From the Odd” at Lancaster Litfest

Posted: November 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Here is a review of From the Odd at Lancaster Litfest by Vicky Ellis of Lancashire Writing Hub. It was a pleasure to perform next to Joanne Blake again, who I’ve not seen in ages. Enjoy reading!

Review: The Nothing Show

Posted: August 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

I was at Larmer Tree Festival telling stories. It was magical, but I’m not here to tell you about that.

I’m here to tell you about Stewart Wright’s “The Nothing Show”, a half-hour performance piece that was so good I saw it twice.

It’s hard to describe the piece without spoilers. It’s a mime, the solo performer simply enacts getting up in the morning and getting ready to go out. Wright doesn’t speak, though he does make sound effects. That’s all. The physicality, the facial expressions, the creation and exploration of an imaginary geography, the skills Wright demonstrates are amazing. I was enthralled at how he was able to portray so much and get his audience so emotionally invested in a character whilst apprently doing so little. But to understand the appeal of The Nothing Show, you have to step back from the moment by moment joy of Wright’s corporeal mime and see the piece as a whole.

For the last hundred years the public whiteface of mime has been one of elaborate, formal gesture. It’s been one of talented street performance. It’s been impressive and technical but it hasn’t always been moving. It wasn’t always like that. The Mummers plays, for example, were about telling a story through an interesting medium, and Wright is re-exploring exactly that effect in his performance. The Nothing Show portrays a character who is a charming, sympathetic and believable individual. It shares the narrative of the compounded difficulties of getting ready to go out in the morning, underpinned with the mime’s craving for self-expression and freedom from the tyranny of the mundane. It features all the hallmarks of great storytelling composition: Reincorporation, escalation, premise and so on.

The result is a triumph. The Nothing Show connects to its audience in a way that formal mime can not, and it does it by embracing narrative.

Go and see it.