My train from Bath took me straight North to Manchester and I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly just ½ hour before the storytelling started. Earphones, SatNav, charge!
I loved walking through Manchester, obeying the orders of the bossy woman’s voice I heard in my ears. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I recognised, having not visited Manchester in over a decade. Oxford Road where Sooz studied, that funny bar at the junction of Great Bridgewater Street and then The Briton’s Protection, a lovely pub named, with typically harsh Mancunian irony, after the Peterloo Massacre on St Peter’s Field, 16th August 1819, when the government read the Riot Act and commanded the Army to open fire on peaceful Chartist demonstrators. Still on the Statutes, the Riot Act.
I arrived with a minute to spare and there I found old friends like Honor Giles and Helen Stewart, who’ve been running the Word of Mouth Storytelling Club successfully for a number of years. I sat at the back not knowing, until he spoke, that I’d sat next to my old friend Nick. Then I heard Effie’s laugh & realised that my London friends, Richard Trouncer and Effie Giordanou were there too! I met Richard & Effie at Word Of Mouth, years ago. Richard & Effie met each other at Word Of Mouth. I was already enjoying this reunion.
Friday night I saw Amy Douglas telling stories with her musical partner Lucy Wells. “Wild Edrick” was very cleverly structured and a beautifully balanced evening’s storytelling. Funny, magical, humane, the story glid from Shropshire landscape to folklore, to history, to myth, and back. Subtly, but strongly political, different layers of the telling explored the relationship between Edrick and Goda, between the rich people hunting and the poor people getting fed, the shamanic relationship between hunter & hunted – in which the hunted gives consent to be hunted on the understanding that they will not be over-hunted, and the relationship between the ruled and their rulers. Really beautiful stuff.
More memory lane as I walked to my hotel, past the Central Library, the Art Museum. I was amazed just how much my mind had stored.
But on Sunday I was astounded at what the memory of Shonaleigh has stored. You think you’re a storyteller and then you hear Shonaleigh doing a Drut’syla telling. Wow.
The Drut’syla is a female Jewish storyteller. They have their own unique repertoire. Shonaleigh’s training by her Grandmother Edith Marx, which lasted from the age of four to eighteen, has equipped her with a repertoire of 3,500 interlaced stories. No, that’s not a typo. Really, three and a half thousand.
The way a Drut’syla telling works is fascinating. A story will intersect with another story which is alluded to with “but that’s another story,” to which the audience responds “for another time”. The teller then continues with the tale. But, if anyone in the audience says, for example, “no, tell us the story of the wine merchants” the Drut’syla will do so. Usually that story leads back to the one we were on, but not necessarily, and there’s no guarantee you’ll hear the end of any given story. Not that night, anyway, and traditionally a Drut’syla telling can last for nights.
I could’ve listened for weeks! It wasn’t just the depth of her repertoire and the sense of an entire world you could explore, but Shonaleigh’s telling is so spare, so clean, with never a word too many nor a description too long. Utterly hypnotic. I sincerely think Shonaleigh should be awarded Museum status as a sincere acknowledgement of her, of her Grandmother and their tradition and of the importance of intangible culture, paradoxically enduring and at the same time fragile. Now that’d be a Facebook petition to sign!
I’m taking a few days break now but I’ll be in touch next week to share some exciting developments in the Alexander Pope commission. And I plan to record some poetry for you. So, keep checking in! See you soon.