When the Arcola announced its Autumn season, the description of Tell Them That I Am Young and Beautiful
didn't particularly appeal to me. However finding out that one of the world's greatest living stage actresses¹ was among its stars was enough to make me book and once again Kathryn Hunter doesn't disappoint. Seven stories from around the world have been set to a text by Gilles Aufray and turned into a performance by the quartet of international actors, Marcello Magni, Patrice Naiambana, David Bartholomew Soroczynski and Hunter, with Magni also directing and Tunde Jegede providing music on the kora
and other instruments. We see a sad Italian fairytale, a true story from the French papers in 2007, an Indian fable about hospitality and a traditional African tale about greed, with a couple of shorter stories told in the show's finale (the seventh story, cut for length, is given to the audience on the way out to read on the way home².) Though all of them are very funny stories with a sad or tragic undercurrent, and the occasional very gentle bit of political satire, the real link here is in the joy of storytelling itself. There's no set beyond several long bamboo poles, but with lots of costume changes and props the actors alternate the role of narrator and take on a host of characters, and even as the audience wilted in the heat³ they kept up boundless energy; while audience members who presumably hadn't seen Kafka's Monkey
gasped in surprise at the contortions Hunter gets herself into to play a cockney pigeon. There's a tiny bit of very gentle audience participation (plus one of Naiambana's characters has a tendency to get stroppy with the audience) and a really joyous atmosphere, one of those shows where you can see smiles on the audience's faces throughout. It's not a piece of theatre that seeks to make something startlingly new, rather one that glories in storytelling theatre itself and its possibilities, and which I'd strongly recommend.Tell Them That I Am Young and Beautiful
by Gilles Aufray, Marcello Magni, Kathryn Hunter, Patrice Naiambana and David Bartholomew Soroczynski is booking until the 8th of October at Arcola Studio 2.
¹even if the world at large has failed to notice this yet
²given that it's a much better-known story (involving a frog and a scorpion crossing a river) than the rest, it was the right one to drop
³Magni quipped "I hope you enjoyed the free sauna" as he thanked the audience for the standing ovation