views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Rising Cost of Cabbage
Soho Theatre
21st November 2016


Mikael Oberg

Photography supplied by The Crick Crack Club

The first rule of The Crick Crack Club is when they say "crick", you say "crack". (No "crack" and there's no craic, so play along unless you want to spend an hour sitting quietly with nothing happening.) The second rule of The Crick Crack Club is do talk about The Crick Crack Club. It's been going strong since the 1980s, but more people should know about it. Third rule? Don't underestimate any of their storytellers. They never use any fancy set design, sound design or jazzy costumes and yet I've never met one who actually needs such help in transporting an audience to another realm. You might be tempted to look past a black box show called The Rising Cost of Cabbage, however despite its rather ordinary name, it's truly spellbinding.

As host Ben Haggarty introduces the evening's storyteller Alys Torrance and warms up the audience, it becomes apparent just how many of them are regulars. We've been here plenty of times ourselves and yet aren't as adept as some of them at playing with the words as we throw them back at Haggarty, with a rapidly increasing speed and difficulty. When Torrance takes ownership of the room, she begins to tell us of a young girl with very long hair, who was locked up in a tall tower without any doors. It's a tale that we all know to some extent, whether we're just familiar with the cries of "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!" or the darker sections of the story that come before and after. We have child snatching, magical bodily harm and an old spinster with questionable mental health. Like any good fairytale, you can cut out chunks to make it child friendly and saccharine, but its roots are so much darker and more complex than that. Which is what makes it interesting.

The tale of young Cabbage is punctuated with unsophisticated melodies and short snippets of other tower-based myths, some which end abruptly and without a happy ending. These even darker excepts told merely in passing serve to shock us and remind us that when Torrance is speaking, anything can happen. The first few times she reaches for her collection of mismatched bottles and jam jars filled with water to create a musical interlude, I do wonder why it's necessary. However, after she finishes tapping them all to create a childlike and ethereal tune, there's a powerful moment in which the sounds slowly dissipate and we're left in a silence that's rounded by the lingering memory of those faded notes. Although it's such a simple trick, it's one which does create a truly magical silence in which we realise we're holding our breath just like children, waiting for the adult to turn the page and continue the story.

Torrance is evidently a seasoned storyteller who knows exactly what she's doing. In those moments of silence, there's no rustling, sniffling or chatter; she has the entire room hooked on her every word. She has a naturally unassuming voice, the kind that makes it easy to undervalue her and she uses this to her advantage. Padding slowly around the room, she suddenly throws a line into the air with biting wit and perfect delivery, reacting to the audience and then continuing her narrative. Torrance is enchantingly enigmatic, drawing us in and never once losing momentum.

With regular storytelling nights all over London from the Soho Theatre to Rich Mix and the British Library, keep your eyes peeled for the next chance to spend an hour with one of The Crick Crack Club's gifted associates. You're never too old for a good yarn and that certainly is what they provide.

The Rising Cost of Cabbage ran on 21st November 2016 at the Soho Theatre. The Crick Crack Club regularly run storytelling events at The Soho Theatre, Rich Mix and The Forge.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)

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