One of novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s eight lessons on writing is to create at least one character people care about. The next? Make awful things happen to them.
As if their pen were guided by Vonnegut himself, musical theatre troupe Mr Fibby has written the story of the world’s smallest, loneliest and ugliest girl whose only possession, a violin made from a biscuit tin, is stolen by the devil.
If the storyline for ‘Little Girl Lost in the Devil’s Black Beard’ sounds bleak you’re probably assuming her luck picks up. Apparently not. Mr Fibby says the performance is a “high-speed moral-free fairy-tale … that will take you down to the river of story, and leave you there to drown.”
This could be because the gypsy-inspired outfit draws inspiration from the original Brothers Grimm – the darker versions that existed before Disney came along and cleaned them up, says Mr Fibby storyteller Adam Hadley.
“We’re very much influenced by the Brothers Grimm and Slavic folk tales from the old country,” he says. “There’s always devil characters offering wonderful gifts that turn out to be not so wonderful and everyone usually ends up dying. They’re almost cautionary tales, saying nothing is ever fair and nothing ever goes right.”
Hadley is the sole actor and plays all the characters in Little Girl Lost in the Devil’s Black Beard. Supporting him is Grahame Thompson (cello), Sam King (guitar) and Emma Kelly (vioin). The show was developed for the Canberra Fringe Festival in 2008, went on to sell out a season at the National Multicultural Fringe Festival, then another at Canberra’s C-Block Theatre.
It’s coming to Newcastle as part of This is Not Art’s Crack Theatre Festival.
Crack co-director David Finnigan has been a fan of Mr Fibby fan since its inception as an instrumental music act in around 2002. As such, Little Girl Lost in the Devil’s Black Beard, the troupe’s first full-length piece designed for a theatre setting rather than a music venue, was an obvious choice.
“When Hadley joined full-time, the band’s folk and gypsy melodies started incorporating surreal stories about Ukrainian refugees, violin-playing zombies and hunting for love in the hills of the Caucasus,” says Finnigan.
“In Little Girl Lost there’s bloodshed, love, murder and children who steal other children’s faces. Then there’s Hadley, who more or less tears himself in half through the course of every performance.”
“Yes, it’s pretty draining,” admits Hadley. “I am fairly high-speed and very mobile on stage. There’s quite a few characters so I switch fairly rapidly. The band play characters as well; we claim to traipse across the countryside performing these incredibly depressing fairy tales to people whether they like it or not.”
Isn’t the word “fairy tale” a little risky, I ask, considering for many parents it’s code for children’s theatre?
“It’s up to the parents, but some parts have swearing and are quite scary,” says Hadley. “We do have a loyal contingent of under-fives who really love us though!”
But if the band’s reception at Robertson Irish Music Festival is any indication, parents might want to think twice about dropping their kids off.
“We assured the organiser we were not Irish music but for some reason he booked us anyway,” says Hadley. “We played right after a group of kids doing Irish dance so there was still a lot of kids floating around. We were later reviewed as ‘an inappropriate act to stage in Robertson, on a Sunday afternoon, after a children’s dance performance’. Which pretty much sums it up!”
Little Girl Lost in the Devil’s Black Beard will be performed at The Crackhouse on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd of October. Mr Fibby will perform a music set as part of Crack’s performance-party finale, ‘Playground’, on Sunday October 4th.