Review: Fire in the North Sky, Guildhall Theatre, Derby


An ancient world of myths and legends preserved by the enduring tradition of storytelling is brought to life on stage in an astonishing production by Adverse Camber.

Fire in the North Sky – Epic Tales from Finland transports the audience to a land of lakes and vast forests, where bears roam, winters are long and dark and storytelling with poetry and song was an important part of the culture for thousands of years.

The simple set, which displays old photographs from Karelia, a remote rural area on the borders of Finland and Russia, invites you to visualise a time in the 19th century when Elias Lonnrot set out to preserve the songs from his country’s heritage.

He gathered more that 130,000 lines of runo-song eventually published two collections known as The Kalevala in 1835 and 1849 which have since inspired many artists.

In this production four talented artists, with an extensive knowledge of the collection, combine their musical and performance skills to conjure up the sounds of the Scandinavian landscape and re-create the tales in their own unique way.

As they weave their way around the stage you will hear the call of strange creatures in the forest, birds singing in the trees, the howling wind, the crisp crunch of the snow, the cracking of ice and the tinkling trickle of water as the thaw sets in.

You will hear stories about Vainamoinen, the central hero of Kalevala, a wise old man who has travelled far and wide; Aino, a beautiful young woman who refused to be tied down by any man; the mighty blacksmith Ilmarinen and the ill-tempered giant buried deep underground called Antero Vipunen.

Nick Hennessey, who is one of the UK’s leading contemporary storytellers, has a passion for these legends that is clearly visible in his exhilarating performance.

The three virtuoso Finnish musicians alongside him on stage match his energy and enthusiasm and together they seamlessly combine music and words from a variety of different stories breathing new life into the lines.

Anna-Kaisa Liedes is a vocalist who specialises in exploring the emotional and expressive limits of the human voice and the haunting sounds she sings in this show make your spine tingle. At times you are not sure if it really is her voice.

Just as intriguing are the sounds created by Kristiina Ilmonen on her flutes and percussion instruments and Timo Vaananen who plays the kantele.

Fire in the North Sky is a remarkable reinvention of the ancient tales which remains true to their roots while making them relevant to a 21st century audience.

The Adverse Camber Productions tour was launched at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre on Friday as part of the Derby Folk Festival and can be seen at Oxford on Wednesday, Birmingham on Thursday, Ilkley on Friday and Gateshead on Saturday. For more details go to