A Many Splendoured Thing, the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s Valentine’s Day offering, saw storytellers Harriet Grindley, Maria MacDonnell and Bob Mitchell perform together as We Three to explore the themes of love and romance through an assortment of tales and music.
The three performers took it in turns to tell stories which ranged from Scottish folklore to accounts of Charlemagne and his young bride. Set in the ahistoric era in which all fairy tales take place, references to contemporary issues like the ‘European project’ highlighted the universal truths underlying these supposed stories. That being said, there was little variation in the types of love depicted in the tales, which were largely heterosexual and familial. Readings of Carol Ann Duffy’s love poetry were the most subversive portrayals of love throughout the evening, complete with red roses and, of course, onions.
The music was sometimes traditional, and sometimes less so. At times the musicians created a backdrop for a tale, at others the songs were the main focus. The sound of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s ‘Je t’aime’ played on a harp was both familiar and newly magical.
Maria MacDonnell stood out as the most engaging of the three performers, commanding the space dynamically to interact with every corner of the room. Her stories included details from her own life, such as her time spent at boarding school, which coloured them more vividly. She invited audience members to contribute, emphasising the communal aspect of oral storytelling. It’s not often that as adults we get to hear stories spun for us; it offers such a different and more rewarding option to merely reading them, and the spell cast over the audience was a testament to the power of storytelling in this format.
This was the first outing for the three storytellers as the collective We Three. Their show was slick and the elements were combined to provide a varied but coherent performance. The charisma of the three performers, and the genuine warmth between them, was evident, and it was this relationship that drove the show.
However, the space was perhaps not the ideal environment for a performance like this. Tables were arranged in a cabaret style which suited the informal storytelling and the group dynamic. However, the lights remained on throughout the performance which, whilst increasing the experience of being part of a collective, arguably removed the divide between performer and audience so completely that it somewhat reduced the power of the storytellers.
Although this performance offered only an incredibly traditional view of what love is and can be, the show was well crafted, the familiar childhood pleasure of simply being told a story was enjoyable.
‘A Many Splendoured Thing’ took place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Wednesday 14 February.
Image: Colin Hattersley.