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Review: The Travelling Storybox presents Bearskin. Written by Edward Gosling.

Welcome into The Travelling Storybox, an immersive world of fairytale. Tonight, their second production, is “Bearskin” - a lesser known tale from the Brothers Grimm.

The first thing that hits you when you enter the space is the smell and the sound of the rustle of leaves. Hundreds of them, great sacks of them, spread out over the floor. It smells like earth, like nature, or the woods and sets the scene perfectly for a story that concerns itself with wildness and decay. As you travel through the doors, London, the city and the modern world are left behind and there is no telling where this will go or what will happen next.

It's intriguing.
    
I sit down with the others next to a giant, shaggy, grisly old teddy bear, on the floor, upon the leaves. This is a world you can touch, feel and get in amongst. The lighting is simple but effective, so is the use of music and decor. But the real energy of the piece comes from having the actors so close. It is a small, intimate atmosphere and I find myself entirely caught up in the world I am in. The more so because this is not one of the big stories Grimm are known for and I had not come across it before.
    
Best to read the original to get a true sense of it, but at a glance – this is a story of a soldier, trained for war, but not for peace. A man at odds with the world around him, unable to fit in and thus happy to make a trade with the devil for the chance at a better life to come. At this point, what I'd thought was an inanimate object I'd been leaning against, gets up and attacks the central protagonist, as the teddy bear, unnervingly comes to life and climbs over the audience.
    
Though the story has many of the classic fairytale elements, including a pretty younger sister and two cruel older ones, the ending has such a twist to it that all my expectations were shattered in the last minute only to find myself suddenly outside again. Many of these old folk tales can be pretty didactic, be nice to others, judge inner beauty as more important than outer etc, but this story has a much darker, more complicated message. It's a pleasant change from the sanitised world of Disney we've become so used to and a reminder that fairytales do not shy away from the gruesome or grotesque.
    
The show is s snapshot, a forty minute dream, just long enough to take you out of the world you're used to for an adventure and then bring you back wanting more and wondering quite what happened. I spoke to Nadia Wood, one of the organisers after the show. The plan is to develop this into a movable installation that is literally a giant storybox that can be brought to people, unpacked, complete with actors and props and then put away again to move on elsewhere.
    
The inspiration comes from the producers longstanding love of storytelling as an art-form and their desire to raise more of an interest in it. This love is clear in the attention to detail shown and the consideration of the experience the audience will have when interacting with the world they have made. It's an ambitious project, to take one of the oldest human pastimes and make it real and visceral for a modern audience well used to special effects and hyper-realities, but there is something incredibly nurturing about settling down to hear a good story. If tonight was anything to go by, expect future productions to grow and gain in confidence. Just make sure to expect the unexpected. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the storybox.

 

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