A co-production by Mull Theatre and Sonder Circus, Cailleach blends circus with storytelling as writer and narrator Ashley Smith delves into Celtic folklore with the help of acrobats Lauren Jamieson and Joanna Vymeris.
Cailleach (Jamieson) is the guard of the wintry months, keeping the shadows close and surrounding the earth in a shroud of mist and cold. On the other hand is Bride (Vymeris), with light seeping from her very pores as she heralds the arrival of spring. It is this dichotomy that the production explores, with emphasis on the feminine duality and the power of seasons.
Bringing traditional theatre online has the advantage of using the outdoors as its backdrop. The production uses this to its full advantage, with filming on the Isle of Mull and New Zealand. The beautiful landscapes almost drip out of the screen, inviting the audience in. The beautiful haunting background score adds an ethereal, atmospheric quality to the entire piece.
Yet the highlight has to be the circus performances. There is a blend of acrobatics and trapeze using ropes and silks and both Jamieson and Vymeris are a thrill to watch. Cailleach’s moves are measured and she is tightened like a taut string that resonates with the beat of the poetry. In contrast, Bride is all free flowing, her movements blending effortlessly into one another.
However, while the circus is beautiful to watch, at times it feels one-dimensional: the rope work is fascinating but repetitive; the terseness and tension of Cailleach’s demeanour appears on screen over and over, and the backdrop of the outdoors also varies little. Though this is understandable from a camerawork perspective, there are times when the audience might tune out due to the repetitive nature of the visuals. This blend of circus with nature and poetry clearly works, and it would be wonderful to see some added variety to the performers’ repertoire – in turn adding depth and dimension to the overall storytelling.
Thematically, the balance between light and dark is well represented. There is a sense of ebb and flow, of time passing and changing. Bringing in the cyclical nature of these seasons more explicitly would perhaps add the enhanced dimension that Bride’s time isn’t permanent either. One must make way for the other and they coexist in us all.