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Dark Tales (Woodbridge – tour)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Legends are international as well as timeless. Their telling crosses many boundaries as the new touring production by Common Ground demonstrates. Quests are for the burdened as well as for the adventurous. Dragons and demons lurk in rivers as well as forest caves. Witches live in chicken-leg huts as well as gingerbread houses.

Pat Whymark and Julian Harries have crafted Dark Tales from sources as diverse as Africa, Poland and Portugal – with a hefty dose of Britain and a tinge of France thrown into the mix. Stephanie Baguet’s setting is dark with shroud wisps of white to offset the air of creepiness. Whymark’s score uses European folk and African rhythms and instruments provided by a group of on-stage musicians.

The main thrust of the story comes from Lisa Came as Leonor, who has left her native Portugal in her hope of out-pacing her own particular demon. She’s nearly cast overboard, when the ship’s crew evoke the old superstition that a woman on board brings bad fortune, but lands to meet a cat – very much declined from his heyday as a god in Egypt – and a goat – similarly declined from god to exemplar of evil. They’re attached to a decayed and surly master, who was once something far better.

All their adventures and the stories they are told as this strange group journeys towards the city where a princess is to be christened are enhanced by an extremely talented group of youth theatre actors. They dance, sing, act and transform themselves (with the aid of costume changes, ingenious props and some engaging use of puppetry) into spectres and villagers, wise counsellors and wicked deceivers with style and commitment. This is a disciplined show with thoroughly professional values.

At the end, all is nearly resolved. Nearly, but not quite. Do even fairy tales always have happy endings? Legends certainly don’t.


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