Bed Time Tales

Bed time stories for grown-ups performed by some of the finest storytellers and spoken word artists. A different pair of storytellers weave their magic each night: Dan Holloway & Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Lucy Ayrton & James Webster, and Tori Truslow & Hel Gurney.
Burton Taylor Studio, Thu 31st March - Sat 2 April 2016

April 5, 2016
Snow White grows up and a princess seeks her mother's library in Hel Gurney and Tori Truslow's updated fairy tales

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.


April 11, 2016

Re-imagining fairy tales so as to bring to the fore those elements hidden in the stories societies tell their children is something we have done since we had the fairytales themselves. So the project of 'making new' that Bed Time Tales has undertaken is in many ways harder than simply telling the tales that have always been told. How do you make new something which is being made new every generation over millennia?
Well, you could start by asking the audience to *be* Lucifer, down on his luck and working in Starbucks, musing that it's not his fault because 'this was the fault of your father's generation' and then ask them to choose their own adventure back to the underworld where they unleash their inner demon and release millennial hipsterdom from its American-obsessed apathy. That's how James Webster tackled things in a delicious, delirious, anarchic blend of Eddie Izzard, Guillermo del Toro, and your favourite uncle. Webster has the ability to take the goriest guignol material and find the point of emotional contact in it. He could tear your soul out and make you love him while he did it – and at times during this show he came very close to doing just that. That is a rare gift indeed.

Lucy Ayrton's carefully composed canvas of poetry and song, fact and fiction dealing in different ways with the subject of tragedy, feels more like you would expect fairy tales to feel. She begins, as such stories often do, with the sea, whose endlessly layered mix of genuine danger and metaphors for death and sexuality make it the epitome of the fairy tale. Ayrton's style is effortlessly engaging, small hand gestures, conspiratorial eye movements, clever emotional rapport building through the way she takes her breaths before delivering each verse, and the effect can be shattering. This is a scattershot collection that is not so random as it seems. We are brought from the distant past to the present day; from myth and fiction through supposition to the confessional. Every narrative line is begun and maintained so that it comes to a single, devastating uppercut: tragedy, she concludes, is 'not the worst things that happened but the worst things that happened to you.'

Each artist had the uncanny ability to make you love them and fear them simultaneously, to make you leave the theatre feeling in equal measures wonderfully warm and utterly sickened.


April 1, 2016

Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin... to try to conjure the effect of this strangest of evenings at the Burton Taylor Studio. Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups is a two-night compendium of tales for adults, as the title suggests; the timing is, perhaps, a little off, given that the clocks have just gone forward and we find our way to the studio in the daylight. My melatonin levels are, truthfully, almost alarmingly low; it will have to be quite the bedtime tale that would ready me for bed at this time of the evening.

Nonetheless, there's a certain pert charm to this, and as we enter the darkened studio and into the mad panorama of the stage - all kids' TV primary colours and props drawn onto unthreatening white surfaces - we are eager to be called into that world. What will an adult bedtime story be?

Rather darker than you'd expect, as it turns out. Kiran Millwood Hargrave is first (in a short show of two 40-minute halves and no interval) with Max Barton on guitars and banjo. They are here to enact the Orpheus and Euridice myth. Luckily for me I know the main points, but I feel sorry for the audience members who don't; a two-line explanation would have been extremely helpful. As it is, the uninitiated are treated to a very assured recital by KMH as Euridice - all gorgeous, zoom-lens images and powerful yearning - and (by turns) Nick Cave- and Elliot Smith-esque songs of longing and regret from Barton. They're a charming performing duo, and - while the overall effect is a little disorientating - it's an easy performance to like and to benefit from.

Dan Holloway, in the second half, is mesmerising. He weaves an increasingly dark and uncomfortable tale of lonely non-binary chatroom users, lured and driven by an itch in the small of the back - the cause of which reveals itself to be very unsettling indeed. His story asks questions about what drives us, and what form our desires take; we follow Holloway as he transforms around the stage, different locations deftly identified with lighting styles. He leads us through Queen's Lane by way of the Radcliffe Camera and the JR, down the canal towpath and into the sinister company of a woman (or figment) named Stitch, who performs parkour with alarming ease. One can't help but think that this is dangerous bedtime reading - it is undoubtedly nightmare fodder - but Holloway is engaging and lurid, and we are happy to follow where he will lead.

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