A storm of stories sweeps into Aldeburgh this autumn
The community-enhancing effects of story-telling will be felt in Aldeburgh later this month when local theatre company Wonderful Beast launches its Storm of Stories weekend, bringing together residents of all ages and backgrounds in an explosion of creative words and imagery.
Storm of Stories director Alys Kihl is reluctant to call the long weekend a festival because “there are more than enough festivals already, but it’s more of a community event – a pageant. We want people to come along and get involved.”
Storm of Stories takes in various venues across Aldeburgh and Leiston during the last weekend of October. It’s an event with an international flavour, with performers from across the globe and from a diverse array of cultures coming to demonstrate the universal nature of good story-telling.
“When you start looking at them, it is amazing how many stories share themes of good and evil over moral dilemmas. It transcends culture and it breaches geographical boundaries.
“The stories may have similar core values but the details change and the manner in which they are told change.
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“Folk tales were taken around Europe by storytellers and they visited different towns, different regions, different countries, and they leave their stories behind in the minds and memories of the people they have entertained.
“What you find then is that local story-tellers then appropriate those stories, amend them for local regions and create their own versions – which is why there are various versions of the classic fairytales like Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty all over Europe, along with stories of mermaids, St George and the dragon and a variety of other stories.”
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Alys said that one of the reasons for wanting to stage a storytelling event was to create an international ambience in Aldeburgh’s coastal community.
“This is what makes the Storm of Stories so exciting. We have people from a variety of different cultures coming to Aldeburgh to help present a wide range of stories in as exciting way as possible.”
She said the sea has always generated a lot of stories and sailors and fishermen have always been good storytellers.
“The sea has always had that dangerous quality to it. You need it to survive. It nourishes you, it provides a means to travel to new and exciting places, but it is also unpredictable. It can take life as well as give life – and not just those out in boats. The sea can rise up and destroy whole towns and sweep away entire stretches of coastline.
“It is this dangerous quality that makes it so fascinating. It’s what gives the stories their dramatic power.”
Alys said that story-telling was more than a traditional form of entertainment. It helped bring communities together. It helped groups of people forge bonds. It helped give communities a sense of cohesion.
It is this community-boosting aspect that she hopes will be a positive side-effect from the weekend. “Story-telling brings people together. It’s different from theatre, which has groups of people pretending to be other people and acting out the story – story-telling is about one or two people telling you a story. It needs people to come together, to become an audience.”
She said that Storm of Stories opens with Sea Tongue – a family show which is being performed by the students of Alde Valley School, formerly Leiston High School. It’s a devised story which is based on the legend of Dunwich.
“What makes this event special is the fact that the students have devised the performance themselves through a series of workshops with dancer Anusha Subramanyam, musician RR Prathrap and poet Dean Parkin.”
They will be joined by children from Aldeburgh Primary School to relate the tale of Orlando (The Marmalade Cat).
She said that although schools open the event, Storm of Stories is not designed as a children’s event. “It’s not a children’s event but it is a family event. Some performances, like Concert of Stories, are definitely more adult-orientated, so it’s for everybody.
“I am really trying to draw everyone in. We have got children performing, older people performing, our theatre company Wonderful Beast is performing and we are bringing in some fantastic international artists to Aldeburgh – so we have got a very diverse, high-quality event: a celebration of stories.”
She said that, for her, one of the highlights of the event was having local Aldeburgh people – long-term residents – staging their own event and telling their own stories of Aldeburgh’s past.
Alys said: “Life Stories is going to be a really special event which is to be held at the Aldeburgh Community Centre on Sunday October 28 and will feature people telling stories of their lives which involve the war years, the 1953 floods, family life, farming, fishing, school days and tales of life on the lifeboat.
“These are stories from people who were born here. Some of them are in their 90s now. It’s great that they are prepared to talk about the old days, what life was like in the war and how devastating those ’53 floods were.”
She said the idea was to bring the community together; to bring the generations together under one roof. “It’s something that goes back into the mists of time, when people gather round a camp fire and swap stories, tell tall tales and relate their history.”
For upcoming authors Storm of Stories is also hosting a pop-up writing clinic at Aldeburgh library run by Caroline Moorhead, which Alys says will be as painless as a visit to the doctor. “If you’ve got writer’s block, go and get unblocked.” There will also be a programme for children with storyteller and singer Zoe Palmer and musician Jack Ross at Leiston Library.
Alys Kihl’s theatre company, Wonderful Beast, is staging a family show called Strange Fish on the Saturday afternoon at Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall. It brings together stories from around the globe, including the tale of the Golden Fish from Russia, Woman of the Sea from Scotland and Why The Fish Laughed from India. The cast includes actors from the Wonderful Beast company as well as Russian baritone Mikhail Pavlov, dancer Subramanyam and musicians Sylvia Hallett, Jack Ross and Miguel Tantos.
In the evening they are staging Concert of Stories – a show aimed at adults and those over 12 – featuring French performer Abbi Patrix and percussionist Linda Edsjo.
“I’ve seen Abbi at the Edinburgh Festival and at The Barbican and he’s just brilliant. He works both in French and English, he can do either, and he works with a percussionist and it’s very polished, very sophisticated and he’s created a real art form. He’s developed it into a very beautiful, very elegant, way of telling stories.
“Meanwhile, by way of a total contrast in storytelling styles, we have Kerri McLean, who’s from Hackney, giving us Memories of Mermaids.
“Her parents are from the Caribbean and from Wales – both great storytelling nations. She now lives in east London, and she combines all these cultures together to deliver something very exciting. She’s incredibly flamboyant and does an amazing Jamaican accent – so she provides a completely different experience to Abbi.” Meanwhile, local performers Tallulah Brown and Hermione Pilkington will be creating an exhibition entitled Messages From The Marshes, which combines audio, theatre, text and photography. This will be their second collaboration. The first, You Needed The Sea, took place in the North Lookout Tower in Aldeburgh. Both recent graduates from the University of Manchester’s drama department, Tallulah approaches the space as a playwright and Hermione as a photographer and sound artist.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their own writing about the marshland around Aldeburgh, Snape and Iken. Words will be pegged up onto washing lines, stuffed into bottles or written into the shingle on the beach.
Messages From The Marshes is being held in The Pump House on the Sunday and Monday, October 28-29.
Meanwhile, Aldeburgh Bookshop is playing host to writer Craig Brown on Saturday, who will be Trawling For Tales – encouraging children, residents, visitors, actors and local writers to read or perform extracts from their favourite stories or poems. It doesn’t matter if they are published works, classic myths or family stories passed down by granny. Craig will be delivering his own favourite childhood tale, the deliciously subversive The Storyteller, by Saki.
The long weekend draws to a close on Monday October 29 with a screening of the silent classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed (PG) at Aldeburgh Cinema. Made in 1928 by Lotte Reiniger, this is an unusual animated re-telling of The Arabian Nights using paper cut-outs and silhouette
Alys said: “It’s an animation classic but is rarely seen, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to see a different way of telling stories – a purely visual way. It’s witty, lively, inventive, incredibly stirring and, of course, romantic.”
She is already planning the next celebration of storytelling, but it won’t be for another 18 months.
“This has been a huge undertaking. I think we need to take stock – learn the lessons from this first event and then go on from there. It has been a mad eight months really. It’s been a huge organisational feat and we need to get various support mechanisms in place but I would love to do it again. I truly believe it is so important to gather people together and swap stories.
“Also, I wanted to do it in Aldeburgh because it’s where I am from.”
Born and brought up in Aldeburgh, she went to London to train to be a teacher, before eventually moving into theatre – particularly children’s theatre and working with myth and fairytale.
But the more she explored the subject the more she became convinced that classic stories shouldn’t just be aimed at children. They were designed to be enjoyed by all members of a community.
She created a theatre company, Wonderful Beast, with the help of friends like Roger Lloyd-Pack, to explore the wealth of classic myth and fairytale, and moved back to the Suffolk coast.
“I am an Aldeburgh girl. I grew up here and went to school here, and although I have lived in London for many years you can never escape your roots. As the years go by you feel them pulling you back.
“I started the company in 1997. I had been a primary school teacher in London and had become more and more interested in the impact of myth and fairytale – not just on children – on everybody.
“The moment you say ‘Once Upon A Time…’ everybody is alert and they are listening, and I love that. I also did a lot of drama and music in school and was always bringing in companies from all over to work with the kids.
“I left and joined something called Children’s Music Workshop, which toured and worked with schools. Then what really triggered me to head off on my own was seeing Tim Supple’s Grimm’s Fairytales at The Young Vic.
“Although ostensibly for children, they were just as exciting for the adults there. You get adults jumping up out of their seats, catching invisible food. This really was a Road To Damascus moment. I thought it was just brilliant.”
She said that their first show was telling the story of Cupid and Psyche, under the title The Birth of Pleasure, at The Rosemary Branch, Islington, written by Jehane Markham.
“It was tremendously successful and the company took off from there. Right from the beginning I wanted a theatre company that appealed and reached out to adults just as much as children.
“I didn’t see why myth and fairytale should be ghettoised as being just for children.”
Alys Kihl is hoping that Aldeburgh and the Suffolk coastal community will get swept away by the Storm of Stories, which runs from October 26-29. Further details are available on www.wonderfulbeast.co.uk