Bed Time Tales is the companion to the Oxford Playhouse's new family show Bed Time. Over the course of three nights, six storytellers performed on the same stage to an audience of grown-ups. James Webster, the emcee for the evening, was keen to point out that these were 'bedtime stories, not adult stories'. Bed Time's set is a children's bedroom recreated in broad lines, the only solid thing, a bunk bed, is also drawn on. You feel as if you've entered a gigantic colouring book.
This Saturday's performance featured two poets: Hel Gurney and Tori Truslow, separated by a short break. Gurney's section was all about looking at familiar fairytales with new eyes. They invited the audience 'in transforming into each of them'. At its heart was Sleeping Beauty, or Briar Rose, whose gifts, bestowed at birth by fairies, start to feel like curses after she wakes: 'You have never learned anything but be beautiful, you have never known anything but youth'. Gurney captures perfectly Briar Rose's sleepwalk through life, in which her 'body moves through life without conscious intervention'. The twist in the tale is that Briar Rose escapes the castle and eventually becomes the mother of Snow White. Gurney ended their story on a cliff-hanger, audiences will have to attend a show at the Poetry Café on 7th April to find out what happened to Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
Shared as a series of texts all written by one individual, Truslow's tale charted the story of a princess looking for her mother's lost library. Among the many joys of this tale is the figure of a scholar encountered by the princess, whose academic snark made the audience erupt with laughter more than once. This was a reader's tale, from the concept of 'unreadables' infecting scholars, to the oracle's observation: 'Books aren't fixed things, you know, why should the sea read it the same way as you?' I found myself wanting to furiously scribble down gorgeous phrase after gorgeous phrase in my notebook, but got too caught up in the tale.
Gurney performed without props, their tablet nestled in the cover of an antique-looking book. Some lighting cues added drama and emphasis to their storytelling, but the words did the heavy lifting. Truslow's performance made use of physicality rather than lighting to signify changes in setting, the set felt like their playground for the tale. This felt fitting for the character of the princess, whose petulance and energy needed an outlet. Overall, this felt like a scratch night for something bigger, I hope to see them both develop as fully-fledged shows.