Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Using their own special blend of puppetry, traditional storytelling and live music, Little Matter offer us a tale of light and dark, drawing on quantum physics, old myths and even the inspiration of William Blake!
We are led to the venue and enter a tent in an outdoor, yet almost underground-feel space. Bedlam Chambers is a becushioned tent off Chambers Street and we enter to some welcoming music from Edward Wren and Ivan Stott as the rain pitter-patters above us. Lanterns and colourful bunting hang from the ceiling. The music starts to fire up. We are all here!
The River People are back at the Fringe with a tale of light and dark, offering us pointers to the purpose of life, and delving into quantum physics, philosophy, and archetypes, employing their well known love of traditional storytelling, music and puppetry, all set in a candlelit tent with a traveling theatre wagon as the stage. Edward Wren and his three fellows then proceed to unravel a tale that is delivered with a loving sense of warmth and community, yet isn’t afraid to plunge into the darkest, shadowy corners of the human condition.
There are echoes of their previous work in the themes explored, and Dante-esque flavour: We have to go through the dark in order to reach the light. And not all light is good – it can be cold, blinding, unforgiving. Yet in the loneliest heart there lives a resolving light.
The tale of Little Matter. A tale of light and dark unfolds starting at the beginning of all things, and even before; a time of magic before the cruel mechanic howl. The River People gently pastiche traditional storytelling adding plenty of contemporary spices of their own in their modern chattiness with the audience. Yet there’s also a tender care in the puppetry and the live music, focused often around a violin that creates just the right storytelling mood for us to leave our cold intellecutal minds behind for an hour and fly into a story. Here the ritual is perfectly set with the placing of candle lanterns.
Vocal delivery and singing isn’t the piece’s forte. Nor does it try to be. It’s the weaving of the story and the playful phase shifting between tented traditional story puppetry and modern conversational
one liners and asides that gives the show a pungent and unique flavor. It’s both light and deep at the same time. That’s what they are doing: shining light into the dark of the deep. No one does it quite like the River People.
It’s a heartfully designed space in which to watch a piece of story theatre. Lighting is set at the level of candlelight, sometimes a bit too gloomy to see the puppetry from the back. Ivan Stott’s vocal work is particularly outstanding, delineating characters with clarity and skill, he’s a singer and skilled puppeteer. But all four performers create synergy which allows the story to flow and fly into the ears of those, such as I, sat at the back. This is a strong foursome and not a hint of ego – this is excellent and humble ensemble work – the signature of quality that always makes the River People shine at the Fringe.
What lacks the strength of their Lily Through the Dark is the story. It is a good story but a little lacking in narrative clarity in places. There’s a bit too much music – a bit more narrative and depth in plot would enrich the production. It’s a tale of wandering through wretchedness towards the light of purpose but too much sits in the story on the sidelines of that and sometimes it feels as if the main throughline is serving the scenes and episodes and not the other way around.
It is when they step into the physical set at the back of the wagon, better lit, that the beauty of the story, the venue and the puppets truly come to outstanding life.
Nevertheless, the standard is so high, the material (visual, verbal and musical) is so rich, and the performers so together, that the story and the show feel valuable, important and enlivening. Highly recommended work.