With her brand of magical and mythical storytelling, Xanthe Gresham Knight cuts across the lines between storytelling and theatre to showcase the female voice through time with a double debut at the @EdFringe.
Storytelling is an evolving art form. Each show is different, and audiences continually develop stories through their responses. The old adage ‘you’re only as good as your story’ could be adapted to ‘you’re only as good as your audience’. And in Edinburgh, audiences are good! Always eager to try something new, the capital’s crowds are responsive and awake. So it’s with great excitement that two of the Goddess Tales, Paradise Bride and Morgana Le Fey, will come to the key proving ground of the Festival Fringe.
Edinburgh has acquired a mythical status for spoken word, dressed in a plethora of performance guises. With its UNESCO City of Literature stamp, this is the place to show and develop new work. Storytelling is far from alone in the “Spoken Word” section of the hefty tome that is the Fringe guide, however. The bulk of those doing the talking will fall into three more common areas: stand-up comedy, poetry, and book/life talks.
Some of these, such as stand-up, actually mirror the traditions of storytelling. Just as storytellers of old riffed off each other at festivals and gatherings, so comedians now take part in panel acts and variety shows, giving them a chance to work alongside others, improvise and pick up ideas for new gags.
The nature of Fringe venues also means that, perhaps more than when playing a tour, good comedians will pick up on what an audience likes each night and develop their acts accordingly. Similarly, in the world of storytelling, the exploits of our traditional heroes and villains have evolved over the years to fit the changing preferences of those listening.
Comedians, I’m guessing, measure their success by the number of laughs they get. For storytellers, laughter is also a means of measuring an audience’s engagement. Another is a sense of deep enchantment, of community with both the living and the dead. There are moments when it feels as if time has rolled up into a single held breath. Something happens that is out of your control, something unpredictable, as if there is a third point at play – not just the audience, but the audience behind the audience, listening through millennia.
Perhaps this is why, despite contemporary takes on ancient narratives, it’s the archetypal material that ultimately will win the day. Evolution is irrepressible, however, and archetypes relish the opportunity to strut their stuff in modern contexts. Xanthe Gresham is hoping that her characters, the great pre-Christian Goddess Brigid and the sublime Dark Age Enchantress Morgana, will turn up trumps as she explains:
“The character of Paradise Bride showed up in a Lying Contest with @CrickCrackClub. I was working on the Brigid material and took a break to compete, winning with an absurd story about a European mail order bride who broke through a computer screen to look for a mate. Only later did I realise that Bride was in fact the anarchic Goddess Brigid, seeking to woo a new audience and prove she was just as at home with online love, virtual reality and consumer addiction as she was with corn, swans and fire pits.
“Morgana le Fey is still emerging. The show is the product of four voices: director and dramaturg Juliet Forster @YorkTheatre, lyrical storyteller and musician @NickHennessey, somatic movement practitioner Jude Bird, and I. There’s a lot of mythology from margins and footnotes, as Morgana was increasingly downgraded and vilified from the 15th century onwards.
“I sometimes say with a wry smile that I’m ‘channelling’ the energy of these women, but I’m not really; I’m just playing with the iridescent vibes that come from these ancient myths. I have no doubt that Edinburgh’s feminist, environmentalist and inquisitive audiences will love these sometimes strident, always strong and often vulnerable feminine archetypes. Only a week’s rehearsal left…
Who knows where Edinburgh will take us all?”
Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal:
As sister, lover and foster mother to King Arthur, Morgana’s very human passions are rejected time and time again. As Queen, politician, working mother and sorceress, she tries to do it all and fails. Is she trying to do too much? It’s a perennial question.’
Xanthe Performs Morgana Le Fey at the Scottish Storytelling Centre from 20th – 31st August and Paradise Bride at The Little Kirk Community Project, Just the Tonic at from 19th – 30th August at 12.05pm
Lindsay Corr is marketing and communications manager at the Scottish Storytelling Centre