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The Storyteller – Curse of Bakawali, Etcetera Theatre

Written and performed by Ashley Alymann

Pros: Combining the art of storytelling with contemporary performance, this piece captures the all-encompassing excitement one might remember from childhood.

Cons: Slightly too long in running time, the ending seemed rather abrupt for such a captivating and intricate piece.

Our Verdict: A masterfully told tale; an enthralling and empathetic experience that allows just enough give at the end to marvel at the feat of the performance just witnessed.

Courtesy of the Etcetera Theatre

It’s very easy to forget that theatre as we know it derives from the age- old tradition of Storytelling. What we really want from all these celebrity protagonists, the fancy lighting, digitized set pieces and ornate costuming is a gripping story and characters which one can care about and relate to. However, sky-high ticket prices in hot demand tell us it is the former that we want from our evening’s entertainment and stimulation. I therefore wouldn’t be surprised at your raised eyebrows when I tell you that one guy in a white t-shirt and dark sweats with nothing more than simple lighting, some unobtrusive (but integral) musical accompaniment and a gripping but fictional myth based on Malay Storytelling tradition, could blow many West End blockbusters out of the water.

Ashley Alymann as The Storyteller deftly folds us into his dark, entrancing story, taking us into an ancient world of magic and myth. It begins following the fate of two young brothers coping with the danger and ruin of the society around them and their mother’s murder. Quickly assuring us of the boys’ safety once being adopted by an elderly woodcutter, The Storyteller transports us through time to when the youngest brother, Bhatin, is ready to take a wife.

During a midnight walk on a sleepless night Bhatin encounters an old woman. Having shown her a kindness in helping her out of a tight spot, the eccentric old lady is insistent that she must repay him. Adamant that the only thing he desires is a wife, the “grandmother” gives the young man strict instructions of a ritual that must be performed on the next full moon to reveal a woman “with astonishing beauty, gentle as the wind, and a heart as pure as the moon.” When Bhatin performs the prescribed actions to the letter, he is presented with the woman of his dreams, Bakawali, who is full of sorrow.

From here, the Storyteller takes us on a journey to reveal that as Bhatin’s fortunes grow, his wife’s situation and state worsens. In a mystical saga of magic, sacrifice, sea kings and hell fire we are taken on the journey to avenge her maltreatment.

Alymann skillfully presents three-dimensional characters each with definitive personalities and physical traits, without a caricature in site. My personal favourite was the old woman – welcomed comic relief in an often harrowing tale – and the sea monster, created and delivered with creativity and believability.

Perfectly complementing and conducting the flow of the piece was the original score by Malcolm Milner augmented by live percussion, which encouraged the “buy-in” to the mystique and sacredness of storytelling.

This production is a real treat fueled by true talent with the heart of theatre at its core – not to be missed.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Storyteller – Curse of Bakawalii runs at Etcetera Theatre until 18th May 2013.
Box office: 0207 482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/

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