Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Faerie Thorn: Big Telly find a darker mythology in North Coast mythology (The MAC +tour)

Take three stories from Jane Talbot’s book of north coast mythology, add a pinch of Big Telly Theatre Company tomfoolery, prime it with a mischievous and madcap cast, decorate with a big soundtrack, lights, masks and puppets … and you’ve got The Faerie Thorn which is touring this island and beyond for the next month and a half.

Parts of the original fables are narrated from the side of the stage, preserving Talbot’s beautiful prose. Five actors bring to life the dark and bewitching tales with thirty year old Big Telly’s trademark injection of humour as the audience gather around the hawthorn tree that sits in a farmer’s field.

We’re introduced to Man Donaghy (played by Seamus O’Hara), the gangly farmer and one of the Big People. He doesn’t know a good wife when he is blessed with one.

Colette Lennon plays Wife Donaghy who feeds and tends to the enchanted tree, and is possibly the only truly good character on the stage. But her fertility displeases her partner who delivers her into the hands of the sweary King of the Faerie Thorn.

Nicky Harley injects sass into New Wife Donaghy, a “knows-everything-woman”. But she displeases the Little People and Man Donaghy pays a heavy price when he tries to tidy up his marital affairs.

The characters keep coming with Shelly Atkinson adding her droll charm and voices to a variety of roles along with Rory Corconan. We meet trolls dealing with the everyday kitchen problems of getting peas all over their frozen hearts. (Harley also deserves a plaudit for her masterful posture as a manspreading troll.)

And after the interval we dive into Murlough Bay with missing fishermen, the ugly-masked Merrows Men, Bright Blue and lots of clowning, screeching and a skinning scene that wouldn’t be amiss in recent horror film release Raw.

The wooden stage designed by Maree Kearns has hidden depths and there’s an extraordinary attention to detail with large scale puppets, live foley sound effects, and more costume changes than an episode of Strictly Come Dancing. The choreography is tight too with long co-ordinated sequences adding to the eerie feel.

Lennon’s lilting singing voice captivates throughout the show, and a gospel lament about some sea creatures stealing souls showcases the musical talents of the rest of the cast. Garth McConaghie’s soundtrack runs continuously, at one point layering one song over another, providing the atmospheric background for every scene, and often adding to the humour as well as the chilling of spines.

The cast are clearly still putting their own stamp to the show with each passing performance, and while some laugh out loud moments are evocative of Big Telly shows like Puckoon and Gulliver, The Faerie Thorn is less reliant on pure situational comedy and buries a darker humour within the enigmatic tales and the far-fetched imagination of Shelly Atkinson and ZoĆ« Seaton who adapted Talbot’s novel.

There’s a richness in the dialogue that’s matched by the richness in the costumes, the masks, the gags, the soundtrack, the effects, the set, the props and the lighting. Big Telly clearly still don’t believe that “less is more”. And with this show telling three stories, that’s triple the number of ideas that have been thrown into the creative mix.

At times the sheer volume of creativity that blasts out from the stage becomes distracting, but who’s to say that you have to fully understand everything that’s happening in a single evening.

The Faerie Thorn runs at The MAC in Belfast until Saturday 29 April before touring Dublin, Newry, Cushendall, Enniskillen, Derry, Antrim, Monaghan, Armagh, Lisburn, Newtownards, Bellaghy, Waterford, Dundalk, Omagh, the Outer Hebrides and Western Isles, Oxford and Clapham. Be sure not to disrespect the Little People or harm their tree!

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