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Review of Vinland at artsdepot

Jack Dean and Christopher Harrison’s Vinland has many interesting creative features but, as a half-term stage show, it fundamentally lacks a sense of entertainment for a family audience. Alas, the promise of ‘a Viking adventure brought to life through storytelling, animation, live drawing and music’ does not coalesce into an exciting, energetic epic. Instead – weighed down by too many clunky elements that slowed the pace, together with an essentially dreary tale at its heart – we witnessed a rather soggy saga. It’s quite a feat to make Norse mythology and Viking seafaring dull; but unfortunately, this story of Snorri is a snore.

Vinland - Credit Ben Borley.
Vinland – Credit Ben Borley.

Beginning with a sort of trip-hop soundtrack, played live, presented with cleverly executed projections, I could see this show working better for an older crowd at a summer festival. As a multi-rolling two-hander, Dean and Harrison simply have too much to do in too little time. Whilst the music is of a high quality, the adjustments required to step back and strap on electric strings or find the next piece of stage furniture make for awkward pauses that interrupt the flow.

My 9-year-old co-critics remarked that they found the story confusing (with my son finding it scary and taking exception to some of the language as not entirely age-appropriate). He pointed out, fairly I think, that Potted Panto (which he gave 5 stars) only had two actors playing a range of characters but they used costumes to make it clear who was who. ‘Oh, and that show was really funny,’ he added. He has a point: If you’re telling a story to a theatre full of children, it requires a lightness of touch and a sense of connection. Vinland feels heavy and intense. This production not only lacks a single gag but seldom finds any levity at all. Its music does not provide a toe-tapping melody but rather a sonorous underscore and ominous transitions.

Whilst the production seems to want to wear the cloak of the dramatic, it doesn’t surge forward with any dramatic imperative. Even when addressing the audience directly, in an odd way, the storytellers never really break the fourth wall. The barrier between players and audience feels impenetrable. In fact, as a touring production likely unaccustomed to the abbreviated thrust stage lay-out of the Arts Depot’s Studio, sightlines of the most interesting feature, the rear wall projections, were obscured by a mid-stage pennant that occasionally serves as another screen. Together with the slow scrawl of yet another chapter being announced (my heart sank when we reached ‘nine’), all journeys felt exhaustingly long and offered little incentive, or even a toe-hold, to invest emotionally.

Some of the stagecraft is quite beautiful and clever but it lacks an urgent or engaging story to serve. Either Dean and Harrison need to go back to first principles of the ‘so what’ in story-telling around which, once they find it, they can layer some of the more hypnotic and decorative production elements (which they will need to deliver at pace with either stagehands or a bigger cast) or they need to decide they want simply to be groovy, ambient and musical and just play (if they go down that route, they might do well to follow Groove Baby’s stage presence). Either way, this show needs a serious re-write and a different direction if it’s to please the Zone 3 families of venues like the Arts Depot during the school holidays.

2 gold stars

Review by Mary Beer

Inspired by the Viking sagas of Erik the Red and his family, Vinland retells the incredible little-known historical tale of the Vikings last journey to North America, where they lived for a short time in the early 11th century, nearly 500 years before any other Europeans. With the only evidence of this being in sagas, historians didn’t believe this to be true until the settlement described was dug up in Newfoundland just a few years ago. Using lyrical storytelling, animation and live music, the family show, suitable for ages 8+, brings the audience into a world where myth and history collide with ghosts, monsters and wild gooseberries. Jack Dean narrates the show playing multiple characters with different voices and performs an original score as well as live sound. The tour begins at artsdepot during Spring half term before dates in Cornwall and Devon.

Young audiences will set sail with Freydis and her son Snorri on a Viking adventure that’s fun for all the family. They will join her crew of explorers as they find out they’re not alone in this strange new land and follow Snorri as he confronts an ancient spirit set on revenge, while learning the truth about himself.

Vinland
Company Information
Directed by Ellie Taylor Written by Jack Dean

Composed by Jack Dean Set Design by Molly Hawkins Animation by Christopher Harrison
Cast: Jack Dean & Andrew Armfield
Touring 18 February – 29 March
https://www.jackdean.co.uk/

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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