Review: Cassandra Wye, Tales from the Cosmos at Settle Stories
October 19, 2015
“There’s always a ‘but’”, says Cassandra Wye. She says it with the storyteller’s lifted finger, signalling the need for careful attention and with a relish in the beautiful plosive sound the word makes. And she’s right.
If everything carries on in its accustomed groove, then there’s no story. We look for the snag, for the exception that changes things, for the piece of magic that crops up when we least expect it and takes us out of our everyday experience, into a world of possibility.
However, before I get onto Cassandra’s enthralling performance, the ‘but’ that unfortunately comes to mind is, “but only a handful turned up”, with not many more than a dozen people in Settle’s Quaker Meeting House to experience the storyteller’s account of Tales from the Cosmos: Stories of the Night-time Sky.
In the context of the day, I understand that this was the exception. Cassandra’s early performance, Stories from the Daytime Sky, which was aimed at a younger audience, played to an excellent crowd. It’s difficult to ascertain why the evening’s show should be different (the stay-aways aren’t there to ask!), but whatever the reason, those who didn’t attend missed a treat.
Cassandra opened with the American Indian tale of the creation of the stars. She credits the Native American storyteller, Lynn Moroney for sharing the story with her, but she inhabits the tale with gusto as she tells how the animals complained to the Creator that moonless nights meant they couldn’t see to carry on their activities (the ‘but’ of this story). She has great fun describing the various animals blundering around, before the Creator gets them to gather stones from which the animals make the constellations in their own image – early celestial selfies, in effect!
However, the slacker star of the show is the coyote. Initially puppyishly enthusiastic to immortalise himself and his friend the butterfly, he finds the weight of the stars too great and ditches them to make the Milky Way.
Dressed in multi-coloured robes, Cassandra brings a striking presence to bear over and above the effect of the words. Though the rectangular shape of the Meeting House works against her slightly, she still manages to establish a strong rapport with the audience, and to bring them into the proceedings in a fun, unthreatening way.
The second story, of a girl from the world of the, came from the Chinese community in the UK, but she has subsequently taken it all over the world, including back to China. Her job is weaving the patterns of the stars, but when she gets permission to take a day off, she visits Earth and falls in love with a musician. Though she brings him to live in the sky her father, the sky emperor, will not accept the effect that their love has upon the state of the heavens and so separates them, allowing them to meet as stars, once a year.
The final story has less of the apparatus of myth, but apparently derives from a Celtic source. The tale of a girl who longs to journey to the stars and finds herself summoned by starlight one night, I found this the most engaging of the three in its simplicity, as the girl overcomes obstacles (such as forgetting her shoes on a frosty night) finally to reach the stars – though whether or not it’s a dream is left open.
These tales brilliantly illustrate the mythology of the night sky, and show what there is in common between the astrological and the mythic versions of ‘truth’ on the subject. Both are a result of noticing things about the sky and explaining in a way that satisfies the questioner – whether through science or through narrative. As ever, Settle Stories is to be applauded for bringing the two worlds together.
Find out about future Settle Stories events at http://www.settlestories.org.uk/events.