Tales She Tells

Wes Babcock


Tess Mc Manus’ offering for Ottawa Fringe this year is an endearing portrayal of history, tradition and memory as tools for a young woman coping with grief.

Mc Manus relies on her skill as a storyteller and wordsmith in the creation of her script, and most of the choices she’s made in this respect are absolutely solid. The script consists of two portions, the first serves as a framing narrative and features the storyteller character, who vividly enacts the second: a retelling of the Irish folk stories she’s been told as a child by her mother. Both the folk tales and the framing narrative that surrounds them are generally well-performed and good pieces of writing, though the first ‘tale’ does seem to drag on a bit.

The staging is good, and Mc Manus makes effective use of the large space. That said, I think the show would benefit from being performed in a smaller space. This would make the storytelling more intimate and, since none of the movement decisions are particularly energetic, the smooth and styled physicality of the performance would feel more urgent.

I really liked the transition from the end of the first tale to the narrator’s dissection of its impact on her. The lighting change, and difference in physical manner was really effective, and pulled me right back into the performance after the slightly-too-long first tale. Through the storyteller’s charming and funny analysis of the stories, we gain some small insight into the functioning of her relationship with her mother. I actually wish that Mc Manus took the script further along to the slightly feminist place she lays the groundwork for in these interludes. Unfortunately, she stops at pointing out the marginalized role of the women in her tales, rather than taking a step against the roles our society still sets out for them.

There is one moment when these consistently strong staging and script choices fall off a bit for me, and it is in the styled chant McManus uses to conjure the demise of the Roísin Dubh in the third tale. This rhythmic moment seems to contradict the flowing pace of the rest of the narrative, and jarred me out of one of the play’s key moments. Perhaps if something similar had happened elsewhere in the script for this moment to echo, I think the power Mc Manus is striving for here would be achieved.

My largest concern with this production is that I remain unconvinced of the emotional significance of these tales to the narrator. I felt the fact and gravity of her grief relied too heavily on the idea that daughters grieve dead mothers, without actually establishing why this daughter is grieving for this mother. Despite the fact that mothers do tell stories, effect their daughters, and ultimately die, while daughters do hear those stories, grow up effected by their mothers, and grieve, there was not a lot of depth to the characters embodying this trope.

In its present form this show leaves me wishing Mc Manus had taken a few more chances with her production, and with a bit of reworking this show has the potential to be excellent.


Upcoming Shows: (Venue #3: Academic Hall)


June 23 @ 22:00

June 26 @ 21:00

June 27 @ 17:00

June 28 @ 19:00