Jo Blake casts her circle, flour falling from her fingertips. It is raw and powdery, with tell-tale grains marking her skin and clothes. These patterns are like small footprints — the sign of magic as it dances across her body. Blake’s effects are lined dutifully at the back, a family of metronomes nudging bowls brimming with petals and water. Slowly, these objects take on characters; those that walk the pages of the Mabinogion, a famous collection of Welsh legends. One name in particular bursts from Blake’s lips: Blodeuwedd (or Flower-Faced), Goddess of Spring.
Blake is a phenomenal storyteller. In Blodeuwedd Untold, the myth pours out her in a heady, enchanting manner, all but eclipsing the outside world. Her own personal experiences begin to fuse with that of Blodeuwedd, as we learn of her first encounter with the fable. Blake is commanding, her movements soft against the spell of sentences that link her world with that of the ancients. She is witty too in her delivery, talking of gossip, of slander — in her book, myth is loose. “A whore” she says, eyes burning with rage.
The notion of mythology is likened to that of Blodeuwedd’s character — a woman shaped from the earth, of flowers, who is forced to take the form of an owl as punishment for adultery. The images that Blake conjures are powerful, particularly her animated descriptions of stories as they grow claustrophobic on a shelf, gathering dust. The sound of rain against the roof of the space adds to more ritualistic aspects of the piece. It is as if Blake controls the elements themselves. Her voice rises to meet the sudden shower, captivating and increasingly alive.
Blake’s skill is even more impressive given that her performance isn’t rooted in a script. It is almost as if she is a vessel for Blodeuwedd’s plight — the intimate reaches of her knowledge another symbol of her brilliance. While there is a significant suspension of disbelief required in the first instance, the stage soon dissolves by means of her poetic and electrifying language. Ultimately, Blodeuwedd Untold is a reminder of why myths matter. Why the telling of stories is such a necessary and valuable act.
Blodeuwedd Untold is playing Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.