Writers: Paul O’Mahony and Mike Tweddle
Music and lyrics: Rob Castell and Paul O’Mahony
Director: Mike Tweddle
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Having had runaway success with Unmythable, a romp through Greek mythology, Temple Theatre return with Norsesome, a new production that premiered at mac Birmingham before touring. The three man cast take the audience through Norse legend, with the Norse pantheon of Odin, his wife Frigg and sons including Baldr and Thor. Also present is the mischievous Loki, whom Odin has adopted. The tales commence with the building of a protective wall around Asgard, one of the nine worlds and home to Odin.
Through hilarious physical theatre, with each actor taking countless rôles and swapping in the blink of an eye, this is indeed another supremely silly, riotous, yet faithful and educational piece. However, at the premiere performance, there was some bad language and some near-the-knuckle moments (a scene, offstage, involving Loki and a horse being a case in point) which were perhaps less appropriate for some younger members of the audience. The story ends with the beginning of Ragnarok, the end of the world. In between, we become familiar with Odin’s (Troels Hagen Findsen) desire for knowledge, Loki’s (Paul O’Mahony) feeling of being an outsider and his predilection for sly, cunning mischief, and Thor’s (Leon Scott) rather simple-minded black-and-white view of the world, which largely seems to revolve around kicking evil-doers, and later hammering them with his famous hammer – the focus of a wonderfully funny song that had this reviewer and his companion literally crying with laughter. By contrast, when the gods realise that the end of the world is inevitable, their song, ‘The End of the World’ is resigned, quiet and remarkably touching, a complete contrast to much of the preceding hilarious physical performances. A common theme throughout the whole of the canon is the concept of bargaining, but too often with participants not being totally transparent and needing to find some way out – for example, when the giant building Asgard’s wall demands Freya as his price, the gods set him an impossibly tight timescale, freely acquiescing to his request to use his horse to help – blissfully unaware that it is the most powerful horse ever. Similarly, when Loki’s head is promised, the get out is that the bargain related only to his head, so his neck must not be touched, reminding one of Portia’s speech to release Antonio from his bond with Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
This show is, quite simply, a tour-de-force, an object lesson in the use of physical theatre to enhance story-telling. The movement of the three actors is spellbinding, ensuring that there is never a dull moment. But that maybe reinforces the impact of the moments of stillness which are perhaps even more powerful and memorable as a result. If there is a criticism, it is that the show ends all at once, just prior to the end of the world, leaving the audience wondering how the story should end.
The premiere performances at mac take place in the Arena, an outside performance space that added further qualities in the balmy summer evening. A very simple set of wooden blocks that are rearranged at an often frantic pace is able to set the scene for each episode. The feeling of being a party participant is enhanced by the pre-show by the talented Viking band, Son of Norsesome, also known more prosaically as Dan Hayward, David Norris and Phill Ward, who each took a turn on each of the instruments – guitar, bass guitar and drums.
This is set to tour – if you see it near you, don’t miss it!
Runs until: 26th July and on tour