Brighton Fringe 2013
As part of Philosophy Garden, acclaimed storyteller Ben Haggarty brings his own dark version of the Sandman story to the Brighton Fringe.
I always find it a tough task to review storytelling because it is too easy to slip in spoilers. And it really would spoil things to reveal much, if anything, of Ben Haggarty’s masterful two hours of The Sandman – Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares.
The Warren’s cosy new fire-place space The Burrow is the intimate setting for story performance in the semi-round. The Sandman is a character that most of us know as the creature who drops sand into our eyes to help us sleep as children. Hans Christian Anderson paints him benevolently with socks on his feet. Hoffman’s short story painted a much darker picture where our eyes are plucked out if we don’t sleep and he feeds them to his own children. Haggarty’s take is definitely located in the shadows though there is also much warmth of spirit in this story journey that really is about life, the universe and everything. Life is a fairground, and it ain’t all pleasure.
The performance holds the attention from start to finish and this is why Haggarty is the master of the craft. Charismatic, powerful, yet also able to invoke the pause and tender gentleness, there is dark comedy here, as well as profound philosophy. So many questions are posed, so many answers left hanging half-finished in the air.
The southern American States form the backdrop to a show that sees Haggarty unhinging beautifully from the usual "epic" forms, as we are left in a world that reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut in places, and in Calvino’s Cosmicomics in others. Yet we never lose the sure and central highway of the craft of storyelling for long.
Often beautiful, sometimes frightening, in word and gesture, Sandman is a wonderful and wondrous two hours and lifts us into the realm of imagination and carries us along so that the time whisks by. The material almost borders on stand-up in places, character comedy in others, but there’s dark theatre at the core and, of course, direct, impactful storytelling. Simple use of lighting and a vital prop or two add to the mix.
The work is outstanding for its ability to play with different forms with ease as comedy, storytelling, mime, clowning, even physical and verbal theatre all converge on a witty, often off the wall (and even the planet) script.
I loved every minute though I felt we were all a little too unhinged from the main tale in the second half.
Ben Haggary has achieved that rare quality of being able to dive deeply and soar into the heights at the same time. Coarse comedy dances with sublime discourse, and the result is a spellbinding two hours.