Review by Giddy Pillai
It’s a rainy Thursday evening, and, armed with a glass of wine, I fold into the intimate crowd of theatregoers milling apprehensively at the back of the Chippo Hotel. 6pm comes, and we make our way down a flight of stairs into a dark room. From a corner, a cloaked figure surrounded by candles beckons us closer. He invites us to take a seat, raise our glasses, and join him for a story. It might be a good one, he says, or perhaps it will be a bad one. Either way, he promises that we will leave having shared a completely unique experience; one that will never be repeated.
Ponydog Productions’ TattleTales is a project that is at once beautifully simple and ambitious. Each night, a storyteller (a role alternately played by Lachlan Ruffy and Davey Seagle) and an audience of up to 25 guests gather to collectively craft a story, in any genre we might imagine, using only our imaginations and a deck of tarot cards. It’s a concept that hinges entirely on the strength of the storyteller. The night I attend we are in Seagle’s hands, and he is masterful: at once mysterious and approachable; keeping us on the edge of our seats, while also taking care to establish an atmosphere of safety that allows us to truly sink into the world we build together. Should anyone become uncomfortable at any moment, he offers us a simple, low-pressure way to dial things back and head down a new path. ‘After all’, he says with a smile, ‘a story can only truly be shared if everybody is willing to listen’.
Our story features a crumbling desert empire sustained by the dwindling hope of its people, a beleaguered mage, a vengeful urchin, and a revolutionary duo intent on bringing the whole house down. It’s definitely a good one. Seagle accepts every audience suggestion with delight, warmly inviting our offers and skilfully weaving them into a tale that is immersive from the get-go. At critical moments, a deck of tarot cards helps guide our fate. Those of us unfamiliar with tarot needn’t worry: Seagle introduces each card we draw in a way that adds richness and nuance to our shared world, and that leaves me wanting to know more. At our story’s critical juncture, I pick the ten of swords out of the deck. Seagle laughs out loud, and fixes us with a mischievous look. ‘For the visual learners’, he says, ‘this is a corpse with ten swords sticking out of it. It is not a good card’. Sorry, fellow travellers!
An hour flies past, and Seagle gently eases us out of our desert world, and invites us to retire upstairs for a drink and a chat. I’m filled with a very particular sense of connection and relaxation, reminiscent of Friday afternoons back in primary school when we’d lie on the floor, heads in each others laps, and enjoy story time together. I feel genuinely moved by the experience of sharing such a wholesome evening with a bunch of strangers as an adult, and leave feeling happy, refreshed, and eager to book myself in for another story hour. Ponydog have managed to create something truly special here.
I think what makes TattleTales really work is a willingness to keep things simple, and a quiet confidence in being able to do them really well. The set design (Phoenix Mae), lighting and audio (Sophie Parker), costume design (Alloquois Callaway-Hoilman) and Seagle’s performance (he’s also the show’s director) are minimalistic, but work together seamlessly to create a truly immersive atmosphere from start to end.
If you like intimate experiences, evocative language, unexpected journeys, innovative theatre made with love, or simply dusting off the cares of the day and settling in for a good yarn, I think you’ll love TattleTales. I know I’ll be back.