In the borders you can always tell when Christmas is getting near.
Not by the television commercials (they start in July anyway). No, the sure sign that festivities are just around the corner is when the Ridout Theatre Company goes into action.
This year, their production of Anne Plenderleigh's adventure. "The Storyteller", opened to a well filled house at the Corn Exchange, Melrose last Friday.
The programme gave us a clue of what was to come: "Deep in the heart of an ancient cave sits an old man. A thousand years ago a spell was cast to keep him asleep for ever. Why?"
In point of fact, we didn't meet the old man straight away. Instead the stage was taken over - and I do mean taken over - by the "Dunter". This wee hairy creature bustled about trying to give the impression of sweeping the cave to avoid the anger of her disembodied boss.
The Dunter chattered away incessantly, never more so than on discovering the presence of an audience through the time arch. Before you could blink, rapport was established and the children (and a few adults) were joining inthe chorous of the Dunter's Song: "Dunt, dunt, dunt!"
The storyteller (Gareth Thomas) appeared and expalined how he came to be immureed in the cave whilst trying to protect his daughters. The evil one who brought this about was it turned out, trying to get possession of a book that the Storyteller owned ... "For books are dangerous, they contain words and they create ideas".
The scene was set for the apperance of Lady Arachnia (Keith Bayliss) a spiderwoman amalgam of the wicked witch and far more fearsome than any pantomime villain.
Audience participation reached a peak at the interval when the children left the hall to go in search of food and drink, led by the Storyteller and the (by now) hungry Dunter.
The second half of the play saw the excitement build as the Storyteller helped by the Dunter, went in search of Luna (Lydia Whellans), the prettier but less intellectually gifted of the daughters. Luna, when found, promptly encountered a dragon (Matthew Burgess), who amiably confided that he was really a prince.
From here on the pace got hectic, with the Dunter, the Storyteller and Lady Arachnia involving the audience in every step along the way. Needless to say, all ends happily, with the dragon returned to being a prince, and a final chorous of "The Dunter's Song" with extra vigorous dunting going on, not only on stage but also in the body of the hall.
Congratulations to all concerned - this was heart warming fare for children and adults alike. The cast really entered into the spirit of the piece and projected that spirit to all corneres of the hall.
The production was excellent, and as usual David Goodall provided wonderfully atmospheric music to enhance the show. If those present think that I have forgotten the scarlet clad Yula (Jenny Martin) - I haven't I'm still happily remembering her smile as she joined Santa Claus in bidding farewell to everyone at the doors of the Corn Exchange.
"The Storyteller" has been travelling around the Borders and north Northumberland, including The Maltings at Berwick, with almost a performance a day until the final curtain at Hawick tommorrow December 22.
One last thing - Who played the Dunter? In the programme a questionmark appears instead of a photo "Dunters don't do photos!" The player concerned is "a weel kent face" in the Borders. Why don't you go along and see if you can figure out the name of the vibrant personality hiding behind the half mask?
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Last updated on 03rd of October 1999.