Updated: Mar 11
Written by ExTS Reviewer, Pippa Meaker
Vinland – Exeter Phoenix – Thursday 20th February 2020
Running time 70 minutes with no interval. Suitable for ages 8+.
“A dark, wintry Viking adventure brought to life through storytelling, animation, live drawing and music. Vinland retells the incredible historical tale of the Vikings last journey to North America inspired by the Viking sagas of Erik the Red and his family.”
Despite having read the above description, it took me a few minutes after sitting down to realise that the drawing of the ship projected onto the stage was being drawn in real time. The very talented illustrator Christopher Harrisson throughout the show switched between the unobtrusive and the manic, racing around the stage moving the various ingenious props before slipping quietly into the background to continue with the live drawings that accompanied the beginning of each Vinland’s nine chapters.
Jack Dean, is the vocal half of the duo (Harrisson remains silent throughout) and is our narrator. He adopts an impressive range of voices to differentiate between the main characters in this historical tale of the Vikings last journey to North America. We are introduced to Freydis and her son Snorri and the supporting cast of characters, each beautifully illustrated in striking black, white and red cartoon and animated form. Dean has with him an array of instruments and a looping machine which from the very beginning is used to impressive effect. In fact, I could go on about the looping machine forever. I have seen its use many times in musical performances but never so ingeniously in a theatrical setting. The staging itself is sparse; 2 performers, some instruments and a smattering of props. This matters not as sound effects are created before your very eyes and it is fascinating to listen as the soundtrack builds; we can hear the sound of the sea, the creaking of the ship and the cry of the gulls.
Of course, we also need the visual and we are not disappointed. Switching between static and the animated is hugely effective and you feel like you are part of a live cartoon show. The animation is subtly done however and is not overplayed. There is also some clever projection across the entire set which adds to the atmosphere, especially so during a battle scene where the onslaught of arrows is really felt by the audience. Credit should also be given to the technical manager, Jay Kerry, who has to be constantly on the ball as timing is crucial in this show.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is the humour. Whilst speechless throughout Christopher Harrisson was constantly playing up to the audience and there were many laughs. Jack Dean is undoubtedly a master storyteller, a skill which appeared to come naturally and with little effort though he informed us of how hot and sweaty he was at the end! Vinland pretty much ticks all the boxes, informative, entertaining, funny, innovative, I could go on. All of the senses are engaged as there are so many elements to take on board. There were many children, or young adults, at the performance and I loitered at the end to hear the responses to their parents when asked if they had enjoyed the show. Almost unanimously the response was ‘really good’ and ‘very clever’. Whilst maybe not the most eloquent of responses it does sum up the show and it was telling that many of the audience stayed behind to say hello to the performers and to pass on their praise.
Exeter Phoenix now offer an early bird special. The first 10 tickets to this and other shows are just £5. The discount will be applied automatically at the last checkout screen, or call the box office on 01392 667080 to check availability. https://www.exeterphoenix.org.uk/category/performance/