FIRE IN THE NORTH SKY at The North Wall, Oxford


I’ve always been a fan of mythology and folklore; as a child, I remember listening to and reading folk tales from around the world, and when I hear a folk tale now, something intrinsically childish and primitive stirs in me. I can’t be the only person who feels this way. It’s the same feeling that drives us to share the Grimm Brothers’ tales or the story of Beowulf with our children; that draws us to someone who can spin a good yarn; or that packs out the North Wall Theatre on a chilly autumn evening to experience Fire in the North Sky: Epic Tales from Finland.

Adverse Camber Productions consists of storyteller Nick Hennessey and musicians Anna-Kaisa Liedes, Kristiina Ilmonen, and Timo Väänänen, who combine their respective creative skills to lead us through the Kalevala, a collection of diverse Finnish mythology spanning stories of creation, life, death, and love, as well as more prosaic tales of labours and journeys. Hennessey narrates the stories of heroes about whom I knew very little before this evening – the wise, noble, but fallible Väinämöinen, the mighty blacksmith Ilmarinen, the foolish youth Lemminkäinen. These tales are drawn together with Finnish folk songs which tell their own tales. Liedes is the singer of the group, and her pure voice and incredible vocal range allow her to take the part of a mother mourning for her child or an angry witch seeking revenge. Despite my lack of understanding of the Finnish language, it is impossible to misunderstand her songs, which tie together the strands of Hennessey’s narrative beautifully. Ilmonen and Väänänen play an unusual range of instruments and manage to create sounds with these and their vocals which don’t quite seem to be of this world.

The storytelling and music in the production are brilliant, but for me, the main strength lies in its rawness. In true storytelling tradition, the narrative doesn’t feel perfectly scripted – the words seem as though they might change to suit the audience or the storyteller’s mood. This feels very true to the spirit of passing on an oral tradition. I could imagine this performance would work equally well in front of a roaring fire in a pub, in a family living room over mugs of hot chocolate, or under the Northern Lights where Väinämöinen himself might stop to listen.     ★★★★☆     @BookingAround     8th October 2015