At the wonderful Festival of Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups at
the Bargehouse, South Bank, these last few days. Took the opportunity to visit the LCIS archive of Performance Storytelling (http://www.crickcrackclub.com/CRICRACK/ARCHIVEF.HTM)
at Cecil Sharp House – one of several places where this fantastic resource can be accessed. I listened to prominent tellers performing trickster tales, through the 1980s, 1990s and more recently.
The modular trickster tales - Peik, Si Djeha & the Robbers etc… can
feel like throwing one handful of kindling after another onto a fire: trick after trick after trick. Each trick blazes brightly and briefly, but handfuls of
kindling don’t easily create a glowing heart to a fire. And the repeated little blazes can seem relentless. So I wanted to hear where these tellers had found that heart in the stories and how they kept it glowing.
Where the stories were working, much of that heart seemed to be in the complicity between teller and audience. The level of complicity seems more vital with trickster stories than with some others. The audience need a way in to a place of playful inclusion in the humour of it all, in there alongside the teller. Part of that way seems to come from the teller’s level of relaxation – I don’t mean telling in a overly laid-back or sloppy way: there seemed to be a place of balance where the teller is relaxed enough for the audience to feel they are enjoying the story together with him or her, but where they’re still embodying enough of that playful energy that keeps a trickster story alive. When the relaxed complicity was there but less of the playfulness, the audience’s energy seemed to wane about halfway through the story (as much as one can tell from an audio recording!). But when the teller was all high-energy without the relaxed complicity, the audience seem to be pushed out of the story almost from the start. How does one find one’s own way to that place where the three-sided relationship of story, teller and audience is alive in the right way for a trickster tale to fully work its own brand of magic? It makes me want to be out there telling and telling and telling this kind of story, just trying things, taking risks, seeing what works, feeling the mistakes and the moments where that magic’s present.