On a street where everything is named ‘Scottish’ something, the Scottish Storytelling Centre stands out like a gem. Wednesday night sees the performance of Fool For Love: a collection of stories extracted from a medieval manuscript, stored in the Hunterian collection at the University of Glasgow, and converted into a visual and auditory spectacle that feels warm, pleasant and transfixing.
We enter to see two women either side of a man with a guitar; his slow, polite movements and well-ordered beard make him seem like a relic of the age of chivalry to which he now invites us back. His gentle, ‘Greensleeves-esque’ strumming forms the constant background to the storytelling, conducted masterfully by Kleio Pethainou, a PhD student at ECA. In her charmingly upfront English, she leads us through four stories which all sit beneath and within the overarching structure of one story: the Duke of Burgundy’s search for a collection of stories to regale his court. The narrative cleverly weaves in and out of these layers. Combined with the cosiness of the environment, the result was an audience which all too happily suspends its disbelief. Being invited into a glamorous, though sometimes shady, world of sexual intrigue and hilarity by a beautiful, red-haired woman whilst a guitar plays softly in the background is not a bad way to spend Wednesday evening.
These stories, whilst having remained unheard for six centuries, deal with intriguingly modern themes. It would not strain the point too far to see echoes of the #MeToo movement in the themes dealt with here. Or perhaps these are themes that seem modern but are in fact perennial. Issues of consent, deception, and power: we can read about these in any newspaper, in a context that is unfailingly depressing (and perhaps rightly so, for they are serious issues). The story-telling duo of Pethainou and Falagaris have brought us a snapshot of such issues from a 15th century viewpoint, and they approach these issues with a lightness of spirit that is, frankly, refreshing. They almost all involve treachery and deception as tools: tools for men with the social privilege to get what they want.
But women are not always passive pawns in these stories. In the first, it is the scullery maid, receiving unwanted attention from the Lord of the Manor, who has the last laugh: the latter’s rape attempt ends with his own emasculation and humiliation. In others, women definitely play the role of unthinking victims; their innocence and lack of worldliness is exploited by men with sinister motives.
These stories are a fitting antidote to the Age of Chivalry; in all, they seem to stress human fallibility: even in carrying out wicked schemes, we all fail sometimes. And there is a comfort to be found in that, I suppose.
Fool For Love: The Not So Subtle Art of Medieval French Seduction
Netherbow Theatre, Scottish Storytelling Centre
20th February 2019
Image: Novedades Biblioteca de Humanidades via Flickr