Past Commissions

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Trickster by Dominic Kelly

A one hour show by Dominic kelly, exploring a character who appears in various guises in traditional narrative across the globe - the Trickster.



Dominic Kelly is one the UK's new generation of performance storytellers, and this is the 3monkey's first commission for an emerging artist.

Dominic has a strong relationship with the material he works with - clearly inspired by traditional stories, his performances are strong and immersive. As a hill walker and climber, living in the North of England, Dominic is drawn to linking narrative to landscape - and this is a recurring theme within his work. His first two adult shows, Crow and The Gift, are both beautifully and carefully composed pieces. Crow was commissioned by Cambridge Storytelling Festival and gave Dominic the opportunity to work with Hugh Lupton in an advisory capacity, giving him a clear insight into combining folktale and fairytale with biographical storytelling, and poetic language use.

Our challenge for Dominic, with this new commission was two-fold. We wanted to give Dominic an opportunity to work with material that was new to him - not new stories, but a new kind of story - new territory. Our other, and the key challenge for Dominic, was to work on finding a lightness and a humour in his performance work, which may in turn lead to discovering a new relationship between storyteller and audience, whilst retaining a clear artistic integrity.

A process of discussion between Dominic and Crick Crack Club's artistic director, Ben Haggarty, resulted Dominic deciding to work with trickster tales - not of a specific culture - but the trickster figure in general.  We then set about looking at how we might best support Dominic through the commission,  which included a workshop with stand-up comedian Logan Murray; some supported secondary school performances of work in process; feedback and directorial support from Ben Haggarty, and a scratch performance with audience and peer feedback. Dominic worked with the wonderful illustrator John Welding to create a publicity image for the show, the process blog for which can be seen here.

The scratch performance of Trickster was hosted by LitFest at the Storey, Lancaster on the 13th of March 2012. Trickster  then premiered at the Crick Crack Club at the Soho Theatre, London on the 20th March 2012.  Since the premiere, Trickster has been performed some 14 times (and counting) in the UK, Sweden, and at international storytelling festivals.

 ‘An extraordinary piece of work’     ‘It’s not at all what we expected. You’ve created a new genre of storytelling’   AUDIENCE FEEDBACK FROM THE STOREY, LANCASTER

 ‘All the feedback from the show has been absolutely glowing. Everybody who was there has said it was amazing’  LITFEST, LANCASTER 

 ‘compelling, funny and heartbreaking’  THE TIMES (for performance at Beyond the Border Festival June 2012)



Having been inspired by historic and legendary accounts of the real life trickster Percy Toplis, Dominic decided to (rather than simply tell a series of trick tales from various cultures) to create a character (John Henry Williams - based on Toplis and his life) and use him as the protagonist of a lifetime of tricks - true, legendary, fictional and metaphorical. The show is set in NW England (Toplis' old stamping ground) in the early 1900s - up to and including the beginning of the First World War. Dominic leads audiences into an ambiguous empathy and admiration for this villain’s unbridled ingenuity and cheek – until, that is, he goes one step too far.

Dominic's sources for the additional trick motifs attributed to John Henry Williams, include African trickster folktales, urban legend, Middle Eastern trickster tales (Si Djeha, and Abu Nuwas), Turkish legends, Till Eulenspiegel stories from Germany, and also episodes from the Indo-European trickster tales such as ‘Peik’ from Norway. Dominic stripped these stories back to their essence and reincorporated them, in what is a remarkable piece of composition.



Cumberland, 6th June, 1919...On the edge of the road a figure wanders south between the sunshine and shadows: ginger hair gleaming and always with an eye to the main chance. Hero or thief, soldier or captain, pit boy or rich man… he’s every one and none of them - they’re all in his bag of tricks. Delightful and dangerous, hungry for life and never to be trusted: meet charlatan and shapeshifter, the master of uncertainty, John Henry Williams.

Harbouring deviously disguised international trickster tales, and legends sneaked from his own back yard, Storyteller Dominic Kelly embarks on an extraordinary tale of trickery and deceit.  The forces of certainty, law and order are closing in on our anti-hero… but it’s a beautiful day, a day when anything is possible. Here hearsay and truth, history, folktale and myth flicker like shadows in June sunshine.  Come journey on a trickster’s side of the road…

The creation of Trickster is supported by Arts Council England