Reviews Wiltshire Published 11 October 2015

Fire in the North Sky

Wiltshire Live Music Centre ⋄ 4th October 2015

Epic and strange.

Belinda Dillon

All narratives require a way in; a key that unlocks the door and allows the reader/audience to step inside. When the imaginative space is particularly ‘other’, as rich with fantastical beings and magical objects as the Finnish epic poem Kalevala – which is as important to Finnish cultural tradition as Beowolf or the works of Shakespeare are to us – then something more might be needed to help reveal its secrets. In Adverse Camber’s engrossing, playful show, the storyteller fulfils that role, acting as a narrator but also as a guide and companion into the strange and haunting songs of this 2,000-year-old oral tradition.

Because Kalevala is based on the sagas told through the singing tradition of ‘runo-song’, which draws on the unique rhythms of Finno-Ugric languages, Fire in the North Sky is as much a musical performance as a storytelling one. Sharing the stage with storyteller Nick Hennessey are a trio of virtuoso musicians – Anna-Kaisa Liedes, Kristiina Ilmonen and Timo Väänänen, all doctors of music at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki – who work together to create something beautifully hypnotic and immersive.

And the tales themselves are indeed epic and strange, and constantly shifting through the mutability of language and ideas: the central hero, Väinämöinen, is at once a wise old man but also the land from which everything has sprung; Aino is a beautiful woman who is also a fish. Babies are forged from fire, as is the Sampo, a magical object that brings infinite wealth; a splinter in a finger becomes a pine martin sent to retrieve the ingredients to make beer; a grieving mother travels to the underworld to revive her son on the banks of the river of death.

That malleability is at the very heart of the runo-song tradition: not written down until the early 19th century, the tales were sung at communal events such as weddings and celebrations, and they changed constantly, living in the moment as each singer picked a different episode to share, passing it on from person to person. This constant shifting, as well as the notion of exchange, is intrinsic to Fire in the North Sky, too, in the relationship between Hennessey and the musicians, who improvise around set pieces, knowing where they’re going but not necessarily how they’ll get there. Hennessey strides through the tales, pulling the characters into the light for us to see them, sometimes accompanied only by Liedes’s haunting vocals, then part of a wild ensemble. The result is like a conjuring, an alchemical process that is fascinating to watch; a living thing, growing and changing before your eyes.

So it’s a testament to the skill of the performers that they are able to transmit their energy and enthusiasm to the audience in the rather austere surroundings of the Wiltshire Live Music Centre, with is steeply raked seating and clear separation between artists and spectators. What I really wanted was to be on the same level as the performers, gathered around them as if by a fire, warmed by the stories and the traditions, making eye contact with them and my fellow travellers on this strange and immersive journey. Then I’d really feel the magic.


Belinda Dillon

Originally from London, Belinda is an editor and writer now living in Exeter. She goes to as much theatre as the day job will allow. When not sitting in the dark, or writing about sitting in the dark, she likes to drink wine, read 19th-century novels and practice taxidermy. Your cat is very beautiful. Is it old?

Fire in the North Sky Show Info

Produced by Adverse Camber

Original Music Anna-Kaisa Liedes, Kristina Ilmonen, Timo Väänänen




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