Hunting the Giant’s Daughter, Litfest, 24th October 2009

Reviewed by Carla Scarano D’Antonio

The audience sat in a semicircle around the centre where the performance was going to take place. Asin ancient times when villagers sat around the fire to listen to the old legends of the ancestors and learn from their adventures and trials.

The first song drew the audience in the magic world of storytelling promising a good story that would be remembered for a long time. Michael Harvey started to tell the story of Culhwch and Olwen, the oldest surviving Arthurian legend in Welsh recorded in the Mabinogion, a collection of eleven Welsh tales. Alternating Welsh and English his voice pervaded the Storey Auditorium filling it with the story of a mad pregnant woman wandering in the woods and giving birth to the hero Culhwch among pigs, which is why his name means ‘slender young pig’.

When his mother died Culhwch’s stepmother cursed him to fall in love with a woman he did not know yet, Olwen, the Giant’s daughter. And Culhwch started his quest to conquer Olwen helped by the powerful warriors of Arthur’s court. But the trial was not so easy because he had to achieve a series of impossible tasks like reaping a field, burning its crops, sowing it and reaping it again all in one day.

The tasks mark his initiation to adult life to gain love and wisdom. Good will, courage, determination and clever tricks helped Culhwch and his companions in the hardest efforts: chasing the wild board Twrch Trwyth and killing the witch y Widdon Orddu.

During the epic hills, trees and rivers are not only the scenery of the story but empathized with the heroes. Speaking animals and weird encounters added mystery and symbolized the different situations the hero needed to face to reach adulthood and win the final prize. Paradoxes, similes and detailed descriptions alternated with swift actions leaving no dead points.

The songs sung by the remarkable voice of Lynne Denman expressed the emotional side of the story: First Love, Staying, The Wild Birds. They added a meditation, an unconscious interpretation of the heroic adventures. The music by Stacey Blythe commented and emphasized the different episodes throughout the performance. She combined old, traditional tunes with new melodies inspired by the characters and actions of the story.

Balancing storytelling, music and songs gave the performance the right pace to appeal and involve the public from the beginning to the end. Taking part in Culhwch quest and his fated love for Olwen, the Giant’s daughter, we could experience the quest for maturity as well. To know more about this ancient but still modern legend visit


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