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'Dark' fairy tales inspired by Northern Ireland brought to the stage

By Jackie Bell

A stage adaptation of 'dark' fairy tales from author Jane Talbot will open at The MAC in Belfast next week.

The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories has been adapted by The Big Telly Theatre company and will be touring both Northern Ireland and the Republic in the coming weeks.

The selection of short stories promises to propel the audience into a "vivid and dangerous world controlled by a complex fairy mafia".

"They are definitely not the Disney-type fairy tales at all!" joked the author.

The stories may have a basis in the iconic Grimm's fairy tales, but this collection is very much deeply rooted in Northern Ireland's myth and legends.

Jane (51) was born in Wiltshire, England but after many years of moving from one place to the next, she finally settled in Ballymoney, Co Antrim in 2011 when she married her husband Ian who is a local farmer.

"The whole process of writing this book has helped me to put down roots here and I think that's really important when you have been a travelling spirit your whole life," she said. "Finding a way to connect and to feel that you belong can be quite challenging, but writing has been the way I have done that."

The process of writing the Faerie Thorn began when Jane set about trying to find the mythical creatures on her husband's land.

"Obviously I didn't see any fairies but the experience of getting to know the farm and the trees really helped me connect with the area - it really was serendipitous getting to know my husband's land and writing the first story which is based on the huge tree on our farm."

She then asked her husband to take her to other places around Northern Ireland where there was 'magic', in hopes of finding inspiration for further tales.

Jane explained: "He took me to places like Murlough Bay and Ballintoy - and in all these places I found a story.

"There's always s tiny bit of local myth and legend in all my tales."

Having been a storyteller for many years, Jane is not surprised that people would automatically assume that fairy tales are the happy affairs usually found in children's books or big screen adaptations.

However, her tales are very much immersed in dark folklore and this will also be transferred to the stage.

Jane said: "The Grimm's fairy tales were written down and refined over the years to try and make them more palatable to society - the original stories did not have happy endings and they are actually quite brutal.

"So I've kept with the original traditions and the stories are quite dark."

And when it came to Jane's stories being brought to the stage by The Big Telly Theatre company, the writer believes there was a little bit of help from the fairies in getting everyone together.

After initially being approached by the company's Artistic Director, Zoe Seaton, a collaboration was then born to transfer the tales from the page to the stage - and Jane said the experience has been both enlightening and enjoyable.

"I think it's really important to know how they work as a group," she added.

"I went to see one of their plays and within the first five minutes I thought it was exactly the kind of energy that I would love to see breathed into my work."

Bringing Jane's book to the theatre has been a long process, and one the author has very much been a part of.

"It has been totally magically because I obviously just write the words and I hear those words in my head, but I don't see anything at all.

"But from a theatrical point of view, you've got the words, you've got the action and then what I completely underestimated was the power of sound and music and light.

"It's astonishing how much of the story these elements can actually tell.

"I've got a huge respect now for the way the theatrical development process works and it's really a powerful, collaborative, generous process.

"The final product is so alive in a way that a book can't be."

  • The Faerie Thorn runs at The MAC, Belfast from Tuesday April, 25 - Saturday April, 29. For fulling performance listings visit www.big-telly.com

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