The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest stories in the world: it was etched into clay tablets over 3,500 years ago in Mesopotamia. The British Museum holds a clay-baked tablet, discovered in Northern Iraq and first translated in 1874, which tells the Flood Story; a part of this epic. So what better place for storyteller (and artistic director of The Crick Crack Club) Ben Haggarty to join with talented multi-instrumentalist Jonah Brody and take us back millennia to hear the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk?
There is no skimping here. Haggarty and Brody begin at the beginning when there was nothing – no thing. Then come the gods, and then come the world, and then, eventually, we humans and Gilgamesh. Haggartyis constantly moving, his body a part of the storytelling. He shows us above and below and left and right; he moves across the stage and every gesture is in service of the narrative, with some clear extra relish as gestures accentuate the occasionally adult-themed sections of the story. He builds a world, much as the gods he tells us of built, piece by piece, until we reach the birth of Gilgamesh.
We soon learn that Gilgamesh is not a good king, so the gods intervene to create his shadow, Enkidu. Yet, the two become firm friends, brothers even. Together they undertake a journey, further than anyone has travelled before, seeking wood to build resources to save the city and people of Uruk. Along the way, they slaughter gods and build a life-saving wall. Then, after Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh crosses dangerous seas in search of immortality, but instead learns what is good in life. Some of this might sound familiar; a hero’s journey, similar to one we might see in movies on a regular basis. But this was the first story, written in clay millennia ago. Haggarty brings not just the story to life, but each character; whole conversations between them play out for us on stage with simple twists of his body.
Brody mostly accompanies Haggarty, adding delightful psychedelic music (I counted at least six instruments used) and occasional effects throughout. A real extra level of energy is added to the performance when the two performers meet twice, once both drumming and with Brody chanting, as they tell us of a celebration. It felt like a lovely natural coming together of two storytellers. I’d have loved to have a little more of this.
The afternoon is fabulous but it is long. This led to some added comedy with large laughs as, with immaculately perfect timing, Haggarty was interrupted in mid flow. Just as he said “Utnapishtim says” the British Museum tannoy came on to announce the museum was closing. Haggarty waited for this to finish, then deadpanned that Utnapishtim did not say that, before carrying on.
Crick Crack Club will return to the British Museum in 2023 with their Epic Sundays series. It’s a beautiful location to spend a thrilling afternoon transported back in time by story and music. Crick Crack Club makes it look simple. Marvellous work.
Gilgamesh plays at British Museum for one performance only. Check Crick Crack Club’s website here for details of other shows.