Shoreditch. 2019. It is late; the sun has long since set. An audience is welcomed into a room on the top floor of the Rich Mix performance venue. Aside from the raked seating, there is a line of bean bags on the floor, and a circle of small metallic bowls, each holding a single LED candle. The room is warm and dim, with rumbles of chatter that die down as a man takes the stage.
Cric. Do you want to hear a story?
Crac. Yes we do.
The “Cric. Crac” response is an age old Caribbean tradition used by storytellers and their listeners, and it is also the namesake for Crick Crack Club, founded by Ben Haggarty in 1988. The first UK-based company of its kind, the Crick Crack Club relies on a consortium of skilled storytellers to enrapture its audiences with various stories, fables, legends and myths from different cultural backgrounds.
However, I was unaware of this as I took my seat in the already quite packed room, on one of the only remaining seats: a bean bag in the front row. Unsure of what to expect from the relatively vague synopsis of Wise Ones, Wild Ones, I must admit I was surprised to hear that it was just an evening of stories – even more surprised to learn that it would go on for two hours bearing in mind the late start of 8pm.
To my pleasure, it was not “just” an evening of stories; it was an evening of vivid storytelling, shared between the 4 storytellers of the night: Jan Blake, Daniel Morden, Laura Sampson, and Haggarty himself. They shared with us stories of love and marriage; sacrifice and betrayal; magic and mystery – and the elusive elders that are ever present in these tales.
The performances are throwbacks to the origins of theatre: people telling an audience a story. Apart from the candle-dotted floor, there is no set. No music, no costume, no lighting, apart from what is needed to illuminate each storyteller.
Nonetheless, the audience is captivated: completely caught in the web weaved by the words gathered from centuries-old tales from around the world.
The Crick Crack Club is something special: a reminder of the simplicity of storytelling, and the intricacy that lies within that simplicity. It’s not a perfect endeavour: it could do with a heightened sense of intimacy in its performance, and I personally would have appreciated a programme that lists the origins of the tales they retell. But for a night of lore, told with verve, it’s very close.
The Crick Crack Club’s next Alternative Tarot, Lovers and Addicts, is playing on 6 March. For more information and tickets, visit the Rich Mix website.