Tall Tales for Small People

4 Oct 2011 in Dance & Drama, Showcase

Cumbernauld Theatre, 1 October 2011, and touring

IN ESSEX the row is rumbling on at Dale Farm where the local council is trying to evict 86 Traveller families from what it is says is an unauthorised site.

On a smaller scale, there is a similarly frosty reception for the family that pulls up its caravan on a patch of former common land in Tall Tales for Small People. Night may be drawing in, but the game keeper wants them to move on. There is no alternative site nearby, but the family must pack up.

Scott Fletcher and Angela Hardie in Tall Tales for Small People (photo Eamonn McGoldrick)

Scott Fletcher and Angela Hardie in Tall Tales for Small People (photo Eamonn McGoldrick)

But then the father, played by Finlay Welsh, comes up with an unorthodox solution. Like Shahrazad in 1001 Nights, he suggests he should tell the game keeper a story. He has no money for rent, but he can pay for the site in kind.

Thus begins this warm, wild and witty adaptation of three traditional tales, as told by the late Duncan Williamson. First staged by Communicado in the mid-1990s, Gerry Mulgrew’s entertaining production has been revived in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland and is performed by the same actors and musicians who are appearing in Calum’s Road.

They tell us the one about the hunchback who befriends the birds and elopes with a swan, the one about the girl fleeing from body snatchers like something out of Tam O’Shanter, and the one about the baby who is swapped by fairies for a howling monster. These are earthy, raw and unsanitised stories, taking place in an unforgiving climate where the protagonists must take extreme measures to survive. It’s a place where adults get drunk, misfits are ostracised and you never know quite who you can trust.

In Mulgrew’s hands, it is also full of vigorous life. Written with tremendous lyricism and rhyming wit, the tales are not simply recited but fully dramatised in that fluid, inventive and resourceful style for which Communicado is famed. All it takes is for Alasdair Macrae to take his arms out of his jumper and he transforms into an owl. Thanks to a trapdoor in Karen Tennent’s hand-cart set, a doll instantly mutates into an outsize grey-haired devil baby. When they need a waterfall, out comes a roll of blue material.

Throw in Macrae’s live score for a variety of instruments and the all-hands-on-deck contributions of the rest of the six-strong ensemble and you have a set of tall tales not just for small people, but big ones as well.

© Mark Fisher, 2011