Winnipeg Fringe Festival: The Witch; Tales My Mother Never Told Me
Far beyond the stretch of books and print media lies a rich body of stories that have been transmitted by voice. Narratives like these owe their shape to skilled manipulations in voice and the ability to draw connections with the audience. Like productions of classic plays, oral stories hold infinite potential for personal interpretations. As may be obvious by now, I have a soft spot for storytellers who work with older traditional tales. What is unique about these next two tellers is that they manage to bring out tales that aren’t necessarily going to fit with preconceived notions about oral stories being only for children.
De Waal is a regular fringe favourite because of his African Folktales show for children, complete with some fantastic puppets and pacing that works well for the very young. This piece takes the South African folklore material to a much darker place. The main thread follows a young girl born in mysterious circumstances who grows up to be ostracized by her local community. Throughout the performance he draws in narratives of place and creation stories in a way that gives context to the central dilemma. The venue works perfectly to be a sense of intimacy, making the whole experience all that much more chilling.
What makes this very much an adult piece is that it touches on the type of mature themes often found in dramas, such as the effects of social stigmatization. This is a show that requires close attention to get the most out of, so I would recommend making sure that you are in the right headspace before going in. It was intense although rewarding, but I found that I would have appreciated a few moments in the hour to refocus in order to be more fully present for the climactic moments. Yet what makes De Waal’s shows worth seeing is the chance to listen to a distinctive voice: mesmerizing, nuanced, and with the kind of projection that would make any drama teacher cry. The animal numbers are great, but I’m really hoping that he does more of these adult shows in the future.
Tales My Mother Never Told Me (Saucy Gal Productions)
If The Witch qualifies as adult entertainment because it’s emotionally complicated, Leigh-Anne Kehler’s show is the other kind: the sexy type. This production consists of a set of bawdy tales from diverse cultural backgrounds about what happens to female folkloric characters who follow their appetites.With each piece, a scarf is used to represent a new item of clothes; this visual was effective in creating clear transitions between the pieces. Kehler makes great use of the stage, employing a lively style of telling with wonderfully expressive physical characterizations.
There is a great balance in the stories selected as each has a distinctive tone that leads well in to the next one. However, I found that the use of a framing narrative did not work because I didn’t realize that the first story had been left unfinished until she went back to it at the end. On the other hand, getting straight in to the material as opposed to incorporating an introduction potentially puts the focus more on the stories and less on the teller, which is something that I appreciate. This show offers polished tellings of earthy tales that aren’t often performed. If you are a fan of other types of storytelling shows, TMMNTM is an excellent chance to see how vitality can be brought to folklore. Or if nothing else, proof that there is a whole body of rich folkloric material out there to be played with past the instantly recognizable European fairytales.