Although storytelling may initially seem like a fairly niche genre, at the Fringe it is everywhere. Storytelling shows pop up all over the city, and in an ocean of tales and myths, you have to do something truly special to stand out from the crowd. The issue with The North! The North! is that it tries a little too hard to differentiate itself and, in doing so, loses that sense of simplicity which should be at the heart of all storytelling shows.
“a visually stunning, but overstuffed work of storytelling”
A great strength of this production is its aesthetic innovation. A huge variety of mediums were used to visually represent sequences, using projections, tissue puppets, shadows and mime among many other interesting ideas. Carried off by the charisma of storyteller Christopher Harrisson, the different techniques proved engaging and charming. There’s a definite, positive, inspiration from all sorts of children’s shows in The North! The North!, whether they be clown shows, puppet shows, shadow shows, or anything in between. A real childlike sense of wonder is manufactured and maintained throughout the production. Although, do not mistake that for a claim that The North! The North! is suitable for children. This is very much storytelling for adults, and a number of surprisingly visceral moments prove teeth-clenching and gruesome, despite the lack of physical gore. But I do very much respect that. It is nice to see a storytelling show which is unashamedly for adults, making the genre work for all ages.
For me, the show falls down at the story itself. Set in a fantasy, dystopian world of clones, undying animals and a huge crevasse separating the north and south of the UK, it requires a fair amount of imagination. Add to that an eight-chapter long, sprawling story, compressed down into 70 minutes, and the show has to shift at a relentlessly breakneck pace. It all becomes a bit too much to process. Perhaps I’m just a bit slow, but I found with so many concepts being hurled at me one after the other, if I paused to think about one, I’d miss the next portion of the story. I would then try and work out what I’d missed and in doing so would miss some more. It quickly became a paradoxical loop in which I was constantly scrambling to understand what was going on. I can say even now, after the show, I’m not entirely sure of the actual plotline. Although, I do believe, that stretched out into a more relaxed two hour show The North! The North! could easily be a great piece of theatre.
The North! The North! is a visually stunning, but overstuffed work of storytelling. There’s no specific faulty component, it’s just that the end product isn’t given enough room to breathe.
Demonstration Room @ Summerhall, 2nd – 27th August (not 14th) 17:50
Image: Christopher Harrisson