Fisher King Blues
Writer and performer: Torgrim Mellum Stene
The Gibbet Orphan’s Curse
Writer and performer: Sarah Rundle
Raven Steals the Light
Writer and performer: Alys Torrence
Reviewer: Paul Rodgers
“Two parts history, one part myth, sprinkled with dreams,” says Torgrim Stene introducing the debut performance of his latest yarn, the first this Norwegian story-teller has presented in the UK. He missed out the nightmare.
For the story of Otto Rahn that he wove at the monthly Tailspin event is a tragedy about a man searching for the Holy Grail who finds himself not at the gates of Heaven but sucked into Nazi Germany’s deepest pit — as a member of Himmler’s SS.
Rahn’s epic journey begins (and in a way ends) with an embedded tale of a magical Rose Mill run by dwarves in the Austrian Tyrol, that he first heard at his mother’s knee.
Seven years pass in the blink of an eye and he’s enraptured by Wagner’s Parsifal. Another seven and his favourite professor is lecturing about the heretical Cathars, who some say protected the Grail sought by the Arthurian hero.
From then on, the lives of the knight errant and the questing scholar are intertwined, each seeking the Grail, each failing to ask the critical question that would save the Fisher King. Along the way, we witness horrors from the birth of the Inquisition and the massacre of the Pure in the Albigensian Crusade to a pre-war Nazi concentration camp.
Stene’s performance is captivating. He sings beautifully, chants rhythmically and acts out the many parts convincingly, using only a single wooden chair for a prop. He artfully turns his occasional linguistic stumble (“The curtains were drawn. No, wait, that means open. The curtains were closed.”) into comedic moments that, along with the sometimes insouciant dialogue, help to leaven his dark tale.
The writing of this 85-minute monologue is tight and colourful. One phrase among many that stood out was his description of a widening in a tunnel as an ostrich egg swallowed by a python. At another point in the narrative he wove audience suggestions into the word painting of the Fisher King’s opulent, elephant-filled court.
Story-telling is an ancient art, with pre-historic links to drama, poetry and song. But the quiet resurgence of the form in the past few years has had little recognition, largely because performances are small, one-off events.
Sarah Rundle, who opened the evening with a chilling tale of a cruel policeman in a fenland village, does have a future date for The Gibbet Orphan’s Curse — at the Nivesh story-telling festival in New Delhi at the end of the month, with the support of the British Council. Her lively story of an impoverished old crone’s posthumous revenge was inspired by the Dictionary of British Folk Tales by Katherine Briggs.
Alys Torrance appeared second, telling a Canadian aboriginal origin myth, Raven Steals the Light. Her statuesque form reflected the trickster bird’s flapping perfectly as it banishes the Dark. Her description of an old hermit’s daughter fetching water in the blackness — the smell of the grass, the feel of the urn, the sound of the stream — cleverly appealed to our other senses in her pre-dawn age.
The evening also featured a musical interlude with members of Apple of my Eye.
Tailspin is held on the third Thursday of each month. It can be found at www.tailspin.org.uk