To avoid the cold and grey of outside, I’m sitting down with a hot chocolate to enjoy a “performance for children” created by Handbendi, an Icelandic company, supported by Little Angel Theatre. This should be pleasant, eh?
Indeed, it is a nicely made show; a varied combination of collage, drawing and clever lighting provides a quite rustic feel for the stark mountain environment, giving it the impression of somewhat more like an animation than perhaps a standard puppet show. The story comes from an Icelandic folk legend, apparently based on a true event in the 16th century. It tells the strange tale of how one girl managed to survive a terrible avalanche that covered her village, killing many of its inhabitants.
From the beginning Paul Mosley and Sigurvald Ívar Helgasson do a fine job with the atmospheric music and sound, setting a slightly unsettling tone of mystery and curiousness. The animation is simple but pleasantly creative. I could imagine making something similar out of everyday items found around the house – cotton wool, cardboard, pencil drawings, wire wool.
Sigurður Líndal þórisson’s measured, carefully paced narration beautifully complements the cold, wintry setting, and the dramatic environment in which we meet our heroine, the little girl, who is a very positive little soul. She is optimistic in the face of adversity, friendly and kind to those less fortunate, although she’s having a tough time herself. The characterisation by Elín Rannveig Líndal is really charming. Her greedy master, however, would be taken down by Marcus Rashford, for refusing to give food to those desperately in need. Indeed, I did think the story might hint at some kind of parallel to lockdown conditions; perhaps a comment on how to get through hard times with the right attitude? But it didn’t turn out quite like that.
Much as we might enjoy the nice little girl’s relationships with the friendly mouse and the cheeky raven, when the end of the tale comes it is surprisingly dark. The production’s notes make clear it’s based on true events that resulted in many deaths, so ultimately it probably is going to have a bleak ending. However, I did think with a little twist of the facts we could have seen some remorse from the farmer instead of this rather extreme and horrible punishment for selfish behaviour. As well as the farmer, everyone in the village dies, leaving the little girl alone with no home and only a fantasy raven for company! It strikes me that’s a bit of a backhanded reward for her virtuousness.
The Girl and the Raven is a wintry show. It feels cold much of the time, despite the hint of warm heartedness at its core, and with its severe ending it doesn’t exactly warm any cockles. However, it is a well-crafted piece of work with a wonderful soundscape, some lovely characterisation and a strong message to be kind to others. It’s also available for free on the Little Angel’s YouTube page, so if you watch it, why not be kind and make a donation?
Created by: Greta Clough
Music by: Paul Mosley
Sound design by: Sigurvald Ívar Helgasson
The Girl and the Raven is available for the next 12 months, free of charge, at Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel.