The only way to make a Fringe show lower budget than this would be to do it without a stage manager. There are no light changes, no sound, nothing but the plain black costume on performer Stephen Mead’s back as he whirls around the bare stage. Yet at the same time, the value behind Medieval Story Man is considerable – every penny that went into Mead’s extensive training at the Royal Academy is clear to us, as is every work-hour spent honing this story over the past few years.
Medieval Story Man is the one-man version of Medieval Story Land, which originally sprung from the pen of Scott Courlander to the Fringe stage in 2012. A sweet and affectionate sendup of heroic fantasy, Land was already a well-wrought comic indulgence in that original, 12-actor iteration; perhaps Courlander woke up one day and realized that that was 11 actors more than needed when he had one virtuouso to romp through his tale.
That virtuoso, Stephen Mead, embodies – and en-voices – everyone from our dim-witted but pure-hearted hero, Todd of Elf City, to the mysterious Millenium Wizard who sends Todd on his quest to stop the Dark Black Darkness. That Mead does so with as much sweating as precision is part of the fun. Putting in considerable effort to rapidly leap into and out of the character of dwarves, fairies, kings, and trolls, he manages the kind of high-wire act where we never fear for his balance.
The two or three times he does stumble into the wrong voice before course-correcting only serves to make more impressive how on point he is the rest of the time – presumably he and Courlander (who directs) rehearsed the hell out of this thing.
For those who didn’t catch Land, this version will give you 99% of what you got in the original: cheerful comedy, sly references (a sword called “Phoenix Falcor”), and a plot that jumbles up enough tropes to actually be a little surprising and touching at times. You’ll only rarely get confused or lost, as in scenes where Mead has to portray entire crowds or switch into a character so briefly he can’t establish their identity before he has to jump back – products of the story’s multi-actor origin.
Medieval Story Man
Written and directed by Scott Courlander
Details and tickets
However, for those who did see Land, you’ll miss the visual humor and the human connection between the actors. (Those who didn’t may also pick up on these moments that didn’t translate.) The hardcore lovers of Red Knight Productions’ Terry Pratchett-esque style might enjoy this ultimate stripped-down take, but for the rest this would be redundant.
This is not the kind of approach we usually see in solo shows, so jam-packed is it with content and plotting. In fact, Medieval Story Man doesn’t feel like a one-man show in the traditional, Fringe sense. It feels like a full-slate comedy packed into a teeny-tiny little package. The only question for a would-be viewer is how much they are interested in hero’s journey adventures – and seeing them irreverently tweaked.
Medieval Story Man . written and directed by Scott Courlander . Featuring Stephen Mead. Stage Manager: Beccah Lewis . Produced by Red Knight Productions . Reviewed by Brett Steven Abelman.