Sometimes a full-blown meal is too much and all that’s wanted are a few tasty morsels to satisfy any cravings. The company muck +rumble has catered for such an eventuality with a smorgasbord of short pieces gathered together under the general title of Telling Tales. Like all the best menus there’s a choice of pieces for each course and a chance to sample any at the end which you might have missed. They are all new pieces of writing under 15 minutes in length and were first released to celebrate Roald Dahl Story Day (13 September); they are raising funds for his Marvellous Children’s Charity.
As I was approaching this from a food related angle, I thought I’d take up the onscreen suggestion of starting in the kitchen with a piece that I thought turned out to be the best. Screen Test shows Elaine, a potential TV cook, trying to find the right approach to delivering her material. After trying her hand at mimicking Nigella, Gordon and Jamie, her director suggests that she “has to tell a story” and so she does. But it’s not quite the one he, or we, are expecting. Chloe Banks’ script pleasingly takes us from comedy to tragedy in a few short minutes and, in the hands, of Julia Hills as Elaine is a perfect little delicacy to get things started.
The writers’ brief on this project was to develop a narrative out of the phrase “A little bit of magic…” In the case of Stasis Mum by Matthew Wixey this is literally the case when the central character (Tupele Dorgu) finds that she can bring time to a halt simply by clicking her fingers. While that sounds useful, she cannot go back in time to alter anything, nor use it to see into the future (so no National Lottery win, then) but she does find advantage in being able to preserve special, magical, moments and using her power to savour such times as watching her daughter open her Christmas gifts. Ultimately though, this story too has a tragic outcome. In The Box by Sassy Holmes Oli (Amy Trigg) also seems to be able to play with the conventions of time and space when she emerges from a large, wrapped gift box to tell us how she has managed to escape from her annoying family. In a nod to The Wizard Of Oz she soon realises that there’s no place like home.
In The Last Fire Breathing Tunnel Digger by Mark Orbine there is a very short encounter between a burglar and a child. The former tries to use a fanciful narrative to excuse her exploits but the latter has a more important and real revelation to make. This is played out against a green screened background with a non-realistic design emphasising the child’s eye view.
Design is also an important element in The Virtual Dream by Gary Wilson. Here an aspiring but unsuccessful actor’s partner conjures up an audience for him as a surprise using a virtual reality headset; it’s a cleverly done little piece. Marvel Mabel’s Final Act by John-Paul Jones makes for a quirky finale as a rather hopeless stage magician suddenly finds she has the power to disappear after all; unfortunately this one resonated with me the least.
Telling Tales is fare of the less substantial kind though there’s nothing wrong with that particularly – sometimes a snack is all you want. Even so the material generally reveals a degree of quality and the short films are well put together and composed by a variety of directors. It gradually becomes evident that the word “telling” in the series title refers not only to narrating but also to the fact that the stories are in some way significant to the teller. As with some of Roald Dahl’s own tales there is a dark edge to proceedings even when the narrative is seemingly light and although some of the pieces are suitable for children this is by no means always the case. And I guess that’s just like Roald Dahl too.