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Review: The Yarn at Reynolds Park ****

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, Imaginarium Theatre brought its touring production of As You Like It to Woolton where the audience gamely sat as a thunderstorm broke overhead and lightning meant the cast had to forgo the choreographed finale for fear of being struck.

But the sun shone strongly (and aptly) on this latest visit for the Prescot-based company, bringing with it The Yarn, a tale of tradition-meets-change in an outwardly bucolic 19th Century rural England which it first staged with success a decade ago.

“Spin the yarn and tell the tale,” sings the production’s excellent ensemble, doing just that through a series of tableaux which weave together fantastical folklore, ancient superstitions and troubled reality in Hardy-esque fashion.

Playwright Rob Brannen’s celebration of oral storytelling tradition is charming, lively and entertaining, but also has an underlying sense of profound sadness as the community at its heart undergoes radical and permanent change.

Bales of straw, spinning wheels, buckets and farm implements act as an evocative, rustic backdrop for the storytellers – from Chris Douglas’ old Maggotty to young Flo, Frank and Will Dowrick playing a variety of village children - who live in a ‘cluster of homesteads’, working the land through rotating seasons with self-sufficiency, neighbourliness and a shared sense of common purpose.

Above: Old Maggotty. Top: The women of the village rally around 'owning the family'.

While the extravagant yarns they spin begin with the mythological tale of the birth of the village, many of them involve death (The Woman Who Died Five Times, Nathaniel’s Corpse Ran Away, and an absurdist story of a cursed cow) – the competitive villagers egging each other on to taller and taller tales packed with deliciously gruesome and darkly comic detail.

Their shifting tone mirrors the fate of the village as common land is enclosed, crops fail, sickness strikes, and the younger generation eventually drift away to find work in the industrialised, smoke-filled towns and cities.

Gaynor La Rocca’s direction and Bev Norris-Edmunds’ choreography together create a sense of real energy, and the cast of community actors bring impressive warmth and vivid colour to their characters as well as excellent comic timing.

The Yarn is spinning its compelling stories in parks and gardens in the region, with two performances outdoors at the new Shakespeare North Playhouse too.


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