By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Through the power of myth, a cultural discourse of any country can be found in the stories of yore. Some legends may inspire a transformative change of the self whereas others look deep into a collective experience that many readers can find, if not relate to. In other cases, they serve to explain the power of a greater cosmic force at work. In folklore, traditions are explored, and sometimes what is experienced is more of a sensory exposition.
In Selkie Tales, grief and loss are explored in a whimsical journey of what the seal-folk of Scotland (a type of faerie) have contributed to the richness of this bonnie land’s mystique. These creatures are similar to mermaids/mermen. But they appear as seals when in the ocean and when they shed their skin upon reaching land, will look just like another human.
In the first act, The Seal and the Cormorant is a tale interpreted through dance. The simple vibrancy of red and blue lights projected onto a screen, and the performers’ silhouette casted upon it is more of a visual experience to be seen than heard. The music by the band Sink is magical, but the dialogue is almost forgotten. Most audiences will leave with remembering the imagery more than the tale of two sisters finding themselves in trouble after a misdeed. Sadly, this myth is tough to find on the Internet for those audiences curious in examining this legend in full. Some tinkering is needed to make all the expositions work evenly.
The Blue Men of the Minch Sruth Nam Fear Gorm fortunately fares much better in its symmetry. Watching this juggling act shows off the prowess of Michael Ritchie and Fiona Oliver-Larkin as skilled circus performers. They intimately juggle, dance, and balance off each other in a humourous performance of two sailors looking for that gnosh that neither are willing to share. Buster Keaton will blush at the skill of rhythm gymnastics that they do.
There is a vaudeville style to be found in this story about these sailors who encounter the Blue Men (Storm Kelpies). These creatures challenge them to contests of wit. Should they fail, they will be destroyed by the sea. This particular act is wonderful to behold as it blends even a bit of Charlie Chaplin’s sense of stylistic comedy with Disney’s sense of musical narrative in Steamboat Willie. These two performers have spectacular timing when considering video is playing in the background. To really sync up with the inter-titles requires being precise in their movement. Seconds count. Without it, this particular act would not have a voice.
But to get back to the theme, The Selkie Wife finishes off the night in a tale where a fisherman meets a female Selkie and they fall in love. A sombre mood is matched by the music when the fairy tale romance turns sad. Audiences hoping for a bagpipe accompaniment will not necessarily be disappointed. Live accordion and flute music proves to be just as poignant to give this legend a worthiness of a Hans Christian Andersen tale.
The magic really comes from the props used for this last act. The life aquatic with Voice Box Theatre’s interpretation of the sea is vividly recreated for theatre-goers to experience and that’s something to see when this company decides to put on this show again. Limited engagements may be found as they tour down the American West Coast to teach their style of theatre to students in many a school and community. There will be a cultural exchange when they reach their destination: Mexico.
What they want to do is to celebrate the diversity that can be found in both the Mexican and Scottish style of the performing arts. This theatre company might be aiming to study what the Day of the Dead is all about since the late October date is when they hope to arrive there. Perhaps the festivities will be in full swing and in what they learn, the team will use some of that vibrancy to present in their next production. Let’s hope this theatre troupe will return to the Victoria Fringe next year to reveal what they have learned if that’s the case!
4 Stars out of 5