- Fiona Prior
Independent Theatre Company Squabbalogic deserves to be on everyone’s radar. They have been around a while but I have only just seen 'Herringbone', my first peek at a work by this fabulous company and I recommend both Squabbalogic and the theatre piece 'Herringbone' highly.
Imagine this. The audience members assemble in a pub back room where a Spartan central, circular stage will contain the performance. Three musicians on string instruments take up their positions and ‘George’ emerges and sits on the end of the stage; a window ledge we gather, and we become the recipients of an extraordinary tale of love, lust, greed, murder ‒ all related by our child prodigy George, with schizophrenic cameos from the other seven characters in the cast – all emanating from the body of Jay James-Moody.
For well over an hour Moody takes us through a vaudevillian gothic tale, ‘becoming’ greedy father, daffy mother, decrepit grannie, murderous producer, would-be murderous midget ‘Frog’ and amorous hotel concierge. No wardrobe changes; just body language, vocal pitch and delivery clearly delineated all characters and seamlessly delivered an edge-of-our-seats and weirdly compelling thriller.
I was exhausted by the end. Many in the audience gave a standing ovation.
Squabbalogic and James Jay moody are names to remember.
I’m also recommending ‘The Tiger's Wife’ this week, a book published in 2010 and written by the then 25-year-old Téa Obreht. ‘The Tigers Wife’ is set in the Balkans, an area with complex histories and cultures where generations of people are/were wrestling with loss in one form or another. It is a saga of how people deal with violence, love and death. Obreht weaves a folkloric tale of superstition and modern medicine meeting in war broken villages; places where stories are things of beauty and mystery, and war seems to happen, over and over again.
“When your fight has purpose—to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an innocent—it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling—when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event—there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.”
‘Natalia’ and her grandfather are both doctors, though her grandfather is of an age that remembers when superstition and knowledge were not so clearly defined.
Some critics have written that the style of this book that is like magic-realism but I find it conceptually far more like a Neil Gaiman tale ('American Gods') but with the feel of an old world saga rather than a science fantasy. So much compassion is embedded in this story.
On the one hand we meet villagers digging for the bones of relatives to lift sickness from village children. On the other hand we have our young doctor – whose belief system lies in science but whose upbringing has been saturated by these superstitions – who promises to conclude this reburial ritual if the village’s sick children are brought to her clinic. Both parties feel that the bargain with the other is but a small concession on their part to lift sickness from the village children ... and all gods – both those of the past and those of science and medicine are honoured in the transaction. This is but one 'for example', there are many more that are equally poetic and touching.
Wonderfully and eloquently Obreht blends the healing requirements for inter-generational trauma and through the creation of a host of wonderful characters ‒ a deathless man, a heroic bear hunter, an accountant of death .... and, of course, the tiger's wife, brings home to us that the human condition needs much more than science to restore hope.
I gave this book my highest recommendation by passing on my copy to a young relative.