There once was a wee princess…so begins Storyteller, a one-man performance by actor and director Brice Stratford. In this quiet and unassuming act, Stratford tells haunting Scottish folk stories with proficiency and style. Spellbinding and poetic, this performance should be seen by anyone, young or old, who would like to be lost in a fairy-tale world.
As with Stratford’s other Fringe show, DROLL, Storyteller has a thesis: that storytelling uniquely allows for an infinite number of interpretations. Unlike with books, film, or theatre, where the audience is told more rigidly what to think or imagine, with storytelling every listener is allowed to imagine and remember things differently, and comes away with a completely individual interpretation.
I listen to a fair number of audiobooks and story-based podcasts; listening to stories told (and not read) live is not the same. When listening to recorded stories I am given the impression I am reading, as the person speaking usually is, and am always conscious of the original text. As Stratford here works from memory, and probably with some improvisation, it is easier to believe that the stories are true, and coming directly from Stratford rather than from some intensely-crafted script.
Adding to this effect is Stratford’s ability to subtly but effectively engage with the audience. From the show’s outset he resists the illusion of the fourth wall that is usually created during a performance by conversing with the audience. Throughout the show, his unswerving eye contact with every member of the audience individually acts as a reminder that you are being spoken to directly, transforming the audience from mere onlookers into participants in the conversation.
Perhaps this direct engagement is what enables the audience to become lost in the worlds that Stratford conjures. The stories are evocative of nostalgia, not because they directly tell of moments of lost childhood but because of the way they force listeners to imagine as children do. At some point we forget the way we used to live – half inside of made-up worlds – and Stratford reminds his audiences that they still have that same imagination buried inside.
Storyteller is a powerful piece of theatre and among the best of the Fringe this year. Everyone should see this understated performance and relive a little of their childhood.
Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre (Venue 76)
Until 28th August
Photo credit: the Owle Schreame