A True Tall Tale

A dark Danish fairy tale for ages eight and up that reveals its inner workings

A True Tall Tale: a deeply sensory experience. Photograph: Bo Amstrup

A True Tall Tale: a deeply sensory experience. Photograph: Bo Amstrup

Fri, Oct 11, 2013, 15:10

A True Tall Tale
Smock Alley
****

In their latest production for children, Danish company Teatret Gruppe 38 invites its audience to lie back and enjoy a bedtime story, a ritual reinvented by an immersive design. Cocooned inside a canvas tent under a canopy of stars, the audience is rocked gently into a state of receptive wonder. Lying in hammocks strung up across mahogany pews, A True Tall Tale offers us an armchair adventure, but the experience is deeply sensory: incense and ambient sounds waft through the air.

The story itself is based on an old Danish folk tale. It revolves around a group of monks who are confronted by a challenge to their morality and beliefs when a family of robbers sneak into their beautiful walled garden and suggest there is a garden that rivals theirs, which reveals itself only once a year, on Christmas Day. The monks have heard of it, but insist it is a legend. The robbers insist it is real. The abbot challenges them to prove it, and in exchange they will have absolution.

The fairy-tale structure is perhaps a little underwhelming for the recommended age guideline of eight and up, but the aesthetic experience will capture imaginations young and old. With fright-white hair and an old-fashioned apron dress, Bodil Alling is the perfect guide for this gothic landscape.

Even when the story starts to get darker as the robbers retreat into the forest, she maintains a steady, mesmerising delivery in Danish-English, encouraging us to focus on the images projected above us, as well as on her statuesque presence at the centre of it all.

After the performance, the audience is invited to see how the images are made, with old-fashioned projectors, soil, leaves and bubbles, and getting to see the process as well as the product is an important part of this transporting, magical show. Just as mundane objects can be made beautiful with a fresh pair of eyes, so too can a fairy-tale stand for something greater. Until Sunday