22-30 Aug, 2015 (2130) @ Zoo Pleasance
By Danielle Farrow
It is always a relief when what you are told is on offer is actually served up! In Extremis Theater bills itself as ‘a daring new company’ and its production as ‘a fable with a modern disposition, where sex, death, and magic intertwine – and “happily ever after” is never what you expect.’ In Extremis delivers on its advertising.
The Peddler, a charming chap with a roguish glint in his eye, invites us into the world of villagers and their visitors, all – in their lives – teetering on a cliff. There is the fairytale heroine, the tough widow, the love-struck would-be poet, the wife-seeking prince, the noble blacksmith (actually two smiths, sister and brother, one poetic in madness) and the menacing crone.
The piece is influenced by folk- and fairy-tale, Chaucer and Shakespeare, and psychologically extreme relationships (with a particular Freudian slant). It includes dark imaginings mixed with wonderfully light humour. The cast is very strong, with Ragnhild Lund as the widow giving an exceptionally fine performance, layered in fortitude and beautifully open in great comedy moments. The clever device of the self-aware story-teller adds charm to simple lighting devices, and keeps lulling the audience into conventional fairytale mode, before further leading us away from the straight and narrow.
The writing is occasionally a bit ‘too clever for its own good’, losing clarity of description and storyline, and some words are rather modern for the medieval setting, but on the whole the script, too, is very strong: dark undercurrents are subtly woven into the fairytale, with high comedy keeping pace alongside, and explosions of both reach their heights with finesse, well-served by the cast in their playing. The story is presented through witty words, bawdy humour, direct narrative, heightened soliloquy, psychological musings, sexual explorations, and archetypal characters pushed that bit further, as befits a ‘daring’ company. There is solid direction that supports all of this and brings out nuanced performances, though the director and writer being one and the same may contribute to those sections which are a bit convoluted in words or unclear in motivation. The pace varies well, however, and the overall production is one well worth seeing.
The Peddler’s Tale is one of magic, fun and horror. It is a modern folktale that explores human experience – joys and terrors – while entertaining thoroughly along the way.