Pros: Masterful storytelling paired with a rich, psychedelic soundscape. Absolutely spellbinding.
Cons: The BP Lecture Theatre in the British Museum is not the most cosy of spaces.
Take a temple of human history and culture, and infuse its ancient collection with stories so contemporary and relevant that they spring, fresh and powerful, to life. This is the British Museum’s concept behind Epic Sundays, during which the acclaimed champions of contemporary storytelling, the Crick Crack Club, bring a series of lores, myths and tales to the Museum. The pairing is perfect: Some of the world’s best storytellers breathe life into objects in the collection through one of the most ancient forms of sharing stories. In this performance, award-winning Ben Haggarty tells the epic of Gilgamesh, part of which can be found, inscribed in ancient Sumerian script, in a fragment of a tablet housed in the Museum.
Gilgamesh – the name rings many a bell. Some are faint, confused – is it Greek? Or older? We’re all painfully aware that we should know who Gilgamesh was, and why his name conjures up so many memories, however vague. Ben Haggarty’s powerful retelling of the ancient myth reveals where the uncanny familiarity comes from. The epic poem of Gilgamesh dates from the Third Dynasty of Ur, around 3500 years ago, and is thus the earliest surviving great work of literature. It is also the inspiration for countless stories, tropes and images that we are familiar with – a great flood during which all living beings except those on a great ship are drowned, a human baby sustained by an animal, the danger of offending a vain goddess, a boatman who ferries a king over the Waters of Death in the Underworld.
It’s a mesmerising, bewitching performance. Ben Haggarty is as captivating as the stories he tells, a true master of his trade with an unsparing twinkle and an infectious love for his tales. Ben is accompanied by Jonah Brody, who, with instruments ranging from the familiar to the unusual, creates a beautiful sound scape to enhance the story.
I feel as though the performance could have been a little shorter, and I kept wishing that it were taking place in front of a fire in the middle of a dark forest (or in one of the Museums’ galleries!) rather than in the somewhat corporate space which is the BP Lecture Theatre. It was decorated beautifully for the occasion, with fairy lights and candles, but there was no mistaking that it was closer to a conference room than a “flickering cave”. That said, storytelling is all about letting your imagination soar, and Ben and Jonah’s performance certainly did that. I will be back for the next Epic Sunday!
Storyteller: Ben Haggarty
Music: Jonah Brody
Producer: British Museum and the Crick Crack Club
Booking link: http://www.britishmuseum.org/
Booking until: Epic Sundays are performed at the British Museum every month between now and December 2016