Review: The Wonder of Trees. TakeOver Festival at York Theatre Royal.

Image by ‘Kirkpatrick Photography’, charlie@kirkpatrick-photography.co.uk 

By James Melville

Story-teller Alice Courvoisier adds to the collection of performances at this week’s TakeOver Festival at the York Theatre Royal, as she tells several dream-like parables of the importance of trees and how we should interact with them. These stories shine a light on how we owe trees a debt for what they provide us, how we should never take too much from them, and how it could already be too late when we finally act. Courvoisier’s TED-talk-style performance of these mythological tales leaves the audience in a rose-tinted state thinking about the environment and makes you want to simply stroll the countryside, take a moment to slow down and breathe in the air that trees provide for us. 

The parables individually were mesmerising, and did indeed make me believe in the wonder of trees. Each mythological parable engaged my inner lover of the outdoors and reminded me of my experiences with the natural world. One parable about a group of children who stumble upon the most delicious strawberries took me back to when I myself was a child and, around this time of year, would go up to the nearest park and pick the berries that we would then use to make apple crumble. This nostalgic story certainly reinvigorated a passion for the natural world, something we seem to lose as we get older to our busy lives. These stories allowed audience members an escape, taking a moment to press pause and appreciate what surrounds them. Courvoisier is skilled at making you appreciate the simplest thing and took us on the ride of rediscovering the beauty and value in nature.

The set was completely bare, constituting only a table with a jug of water and a cup in the corner of the stage. This forced us to engage with the stories, with nothing to distract us, adding to the escapism from everyday life. But not only that, the lighting was incredibly effective, as parts of the audience had a dim but present light on them, as opposed to just the stage being lit. For me this was new and unique, perhaps even genius. It gave the audience a feeling of inclusion in the stories, by feeling a part of the stage and the performance, further increasing our investment in these parables. 

However, whilst the affecting stories spoke for themselves, I cannot seem to shake the feeling that there was something missing from the overarching performance. Despite the excellent ways the stories were told, I felt that it could have been even harder-hitting if there was a performance element to the delivery, as opposed to just recounting the stories. These stories could have been acted out in a way that made the audience see the passion, pain and fear that the different characters in the tales go through even more vividly, and could have made the audience further empathise with her perspective on the natural world. While this may have compromised the air of calmness that Courvoisier brought to the stage, acting-out these stories could have inspired more passion in the audience for the topics being discussed, vital to our planet and individual lives as they are. 

Listening to these stories, I was searching for an overarching point, a link to bring everything together. But on further reflection, maybe the purpose was for each parable to be individual, as trees themselves are; maybe I was over-complicating it. For each parable did have the deeper meaning I was looking for: that something as seemingly ordinary as a tree is beautiful and precious and must be treated with respect. These stories were not forcing us to feel shame, but instead calmly encouraged us to maybe think differently going forward. After the final parable, when the performance ended, it almost felt as though there was no closure. But again, maybe there was a reason for this – there will always be these stories, and always an endless wonder to trees.

Courvoisier clearly has a talent for storytelling. It is absolutely wonderful to see someone using a skill like this for these events which provides that extra little life to the community. It is performances like these that build the discussion of such a prevalent issue that affects all of us. Passion like hers for this issue is vital in getting people engaged in something that we should all be passionate about. 

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