Taniwha Thames

Alan Hindle | Wednesday 24 August, 2011 13:46

In Maori mythology the Taniwha ( “Tani-fa”) is a shapeshifting water spirit that can protect or destroy. While the word itself suggests a connection to sharks the creature may take any shape it pleases to lure and seduce, enforce taboos and punish wrongdoers. On Captain Cook’s boat The Endeavour, around 1770, young Jimmy Frigate first spied the Taniwha, and the sailors become both too fearful and too obsessed with her to work. The captain took Jimmy aside and they agreed, it was for the best: Jimmy jumped overboard as a sacrifice. However, the Taniwha hitched a ride, and today they live also in the various waterways of Britain, and especially in the river Thames. People are still drawn by the Taniwha from around the world, seduced by London. Some will stay, and some, teased and tempted by the same sensuous creature, will return home. Traveling, however, living abroad, changes you.

It’s not that you can never return home. It’s that when you return you have become somebody else. Shaky Isles director stressed that Tanwha Thames is still very much in its creation phase. The performers, from Britain, New Zealand, Samoa. America are still gathering ideas and influences, feeling their way to a finished creation in November. Physical theatre, dance, songs and storytelling, wonderfully crude puppet shows using simple, wrenched bits of paper to represent sailors and sea monsters, and short historical lectures add up to a rich and fluid fairy tale that certainly I, as a Canadian infatuated with London, could appreciate.

Again, this was not a show. It was a creature in pieces putting itself together. But already there is a strong structure and an excellent, enthusiastic and light-hearted cast.

Camden Fringe Festival page

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