Dancing in the dark: multi-medium show brings scary stories to Derry walls

Stories of ghosts and wise women are the perfect ingredients for a frightfully good night at Echo Echo Studios this weekend

When it comes to Halloween, nowhere does it better than Derry~Londonderry, and with lots of fang-tastic events to choose from once again this year, here’s one you definitely don’t want to miss.

From October 27-28, you can enjoy a double dose of spooky entertainment as Ghosts and Legends of the Coven both take to the stage at Echo Echo Studios as a special two-part show. Exploring fear, folk magic and all things ghostly and unsettling, this is theatrical storytelling which promises to send a shiver down your spine…

Ghosts

Written and performed by Gemma Walker-Farren, Ghosts is a one-woman storytelling performance for adults. It weaves together several stories, fusing fact with fiction, myth with ghost story to deliver a ‘uniquely engaging, frightening and relatable experience.’ Directed by Tonya Sheina and with sound, video and lighting design by Barry Davis, it combines a range of mediums to create a suitably atmospheric experience for theatre-goers.

'It’s about our relationship with fear and how it’s an ‘ancient and otherworldly’ feeling,' says Walker-Farren. 'It’s about the ghosts we carry with us and how we can sometimes be ghosts in our own lives.'

Having previously received funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to explore movement with text at Echo Echo Studios, Walker-Farren compiled various written material which resonated with her for the project.

'All the stuff I brought in turned out to be really dark,' she says. 'So we started looking at why we like this sort of thing and ended up going really deep into exploring fear. At the end of the three weeks we decided we really wanted to make something and that’s where Ghosts came from.'

Moving from childhood fears to the anxiety of adulthood, Ghosts also draws on Greek myths and other ghostly tales, taking the audience from ‘claustrophobic bedrooms to the vast halls of Hades, with horror and heartbreak in between.’

'We’re adding new material to the Halloween show, which piloted back in June,' says Walker-Farren. 'It’s autobiographical up to a point but also mixed in with fantasy, ghost stories and dreams. So, it’s personal to me but also universal.

'Barry has been incredible with the soundscape and projections. We have no set but it’s really beautiful how he has arranged it. The way he plays with space using the technology is very dreamlike and unsettling.'

Described by audiences who attended the pilot performance as ‘dark and funny and creepy,’ ‘beautifully well-crafted and well-acted,’ and ‘a brave piece of work,’ Ghosts plays on the idea that sometimes, the scariest stories are the ones we tell ourselves.

'It feels quite abstract and experimental because it’s a mix of all these different stories,' says Walker-Farren. 'It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen something like this before, or if you go to performances all the time, I think you’ll enjoy it.'

Abby and Gemma

(L-R) Abby Oliveira and Gemma Walker-Farren

Legends of the Coven

Moving on to the other half of the show, Legends of the Coven is performed by spoken word artist/performer Abby Oliveira, with video by Mel Bradley. It focuses the audience’s attention on the world’s witch women, or wise women, including Marie Laveau, HP Blavatsky, Biddy Early and Maud Gonne.

'I come from a seaside town called Montrose in Scotland, which is heaving with ghost stories,' says Oliveira. 'So I learned a lot about these women growing up. I’m also interested in voodoo as a religion and culture, and how the ceremonies compare to what people do here.

Blavatsky, like most of these wise women, excelled the norms of what was expected from women at that time. She left behind a marriage in Russia and became a woman of means, travelling the world in search of mysteries and becoming highly respected in her field.

'Arthur Conan Doyle and WB Yeats, who were part of the Golden Dawn Society, argued over whether to admit her to that or not,' says Oliveira. 'It was a very male-dominated world, but women have always held a special position in folk magic societies. That’s what interests me. Although, that’s not to say there wasn’t persecution. Biddy Early, who had been very highly respected in Ireland, was denounced from the pulpit and people became scared of saying her name.'

Combining storytelling, spoken-word poetry, music, soundscape and visuals, Legends of the Coven presents stories either inspired by, or about, these particular wise women. Preparation has therefore been suitably challenging, says Oliveira, but the cumulative effect will be worth it.

'I touch on folk cures and folk magic in the show too, which is still a tradition here in Ireland,' she adds. 'Although underground, it’s still very strong. A healer told me recently that since the recession the number of people visiting him has spiked dramatically.'

Although primarily a spoken word artist, it was this work which ultimately sparked Oliveira’s interest in storytelling, which is currently enjoying something of a revival, particularly for adults.

'Young people are getting interested in it as an art form again,' she says. 'I started off doing storytelling for children and then got interested in folk stories for adults. I’ve developed an appreciation for the power of storytelling from that. Seeing the reaction of children and adults when you tell them a story live – the magic of that – is brilliant.

Ghosts & Legends of the Coven - Double Bill takes place at Echo Echo Studios, Hangman's Bastion, Magazine Street, Derry from Saturday, October 27 – 28 at 6pm and 8.30pm. Recommended for adults only. Tickets available from www.echoechodance.com/whatson/ghosts-legends-of-the-coven

Supported by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Arts Council of Northern Ireland.