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Review: Everything Changes, AJ’s Coffee House by Luke Seidel-Haas

Image result for everything changes weeping tudor

★★☆☆☆

 

Billed as a fusion of storytelling between Celtic and Zimbabwean cultures, Everything Changes is a collaboration between professional storyteller Bevin Magama and founder of Weeping Tudor productions James Ellis. Taking place in the cosy setting of AJ’s Coffee House on City Road, this show is part of the “Fringe Labs” strand of this years Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – that means that it is ” either totally new, or [a] work-in-progress. This will be a platform from which they can make their first leap into the public eye, and develop their work”

As the show begins, James and Bevin enter the space to the rhythmic sound of a beating drum. Scattered on the floor around the stage are various instruments and props, of both African and European derivation, from the African Mbira to the Triangle. Bevin is resplendent in a colourful Dashiki style top and baggy pantaloon style trousers, while James’ costume also appears to be inspired by African clothing, but with a western twist. His top is similar in style to Bevin’s, but in a denim style, and instead of pantaloons he wears a navy skirt. Using a storytelling structure, both Bevin and James take it in turns to tell stories inspired by their own background and culture. We hear diverse stories such as the Welsh myth of Twm Siôn Cati, the Zimbabwean story of the Snake who crossed the river, and the myth of St Telio – patron saint of Cardiff.

Theses stories clearly demonstrate the very different storytelling traditions of both Celtic and Zimbabwean cultures. While James’ sections are poetic monologues performed with a simple sincerity, Bevin is much more animated, utilizing the call and response technique of audience participation, and allegorical storytelling style more common in in the African tradition. While Everything Changes promises to be a fusion of stories, these two traditions feel like they exist entirely separately within the theatrical space. Both James and Bevin sit entirely still while the other tells a story – there is no interaction or combination of storytelling whatsoever. There is also a strange difference between the two performers; Bevin is clearly an experienced storyteller who is captivating and dynamic, whiles James seems less confident of his oration.  As an experimental piece of work still in progress it is absolutely fine for you to read your lines off a script – however disguising this by hiding your phone away on a music stand to read off is a disservice. It may have been more effective to own this decision, to put the script into a storybook which you are then telling the audience.

A highlight of the piece is the title section Everything Changes; a story about the impermanence of everything. Told while playing the Mbira, the monologue is beautifully enhanced by the dreamlike quality of the instrument. Other uses of instruments meanwhile feel a little more tacked on, with the instruments used in James’ stories adding nothing to the overall effect. Perhaps more sucessful would be to combine both storytellers together, with one telling the story while the other provides a soundscape behind it. Similarly, the ending of the piece, while cleverly experimental, jars with the tone of the rest of the production. This involves James opening the curtains to the venue, allowing us to see out onto the bustling main road and for them to see in to the venue. James then walks out, across the road and out of sight. As an ending this is totally unexpected and an interesting concept, but bears absolutely no relation to the rest of the show.

As a concept the idea of the show is an interesting one – the collision of cultures and storytelling traditions has the potential to be a way of celebrating both cultures while demonstrating clearly both their similarities and their differences. Sadly the execution in this piece is lacking, and the piece feels like two storytellers separately exploring the narratives of their own culture, rather than an exiting fusion of the two. A great concept with some entertaining moments, but ultimately delivered only half baked.

Everything Changes

AJ’s Coffee House May 31st-June 1st 2018

Part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival – more information and tickets here

Luke Seidel-Haas