Storytelling events can be a bit hit and miss and this one was definitely not a hit. The evening, overall, suffered from a general lack of flow or structure. Though I was clearly not the target audience, it wasn’t entirely clear who was.
When we arrived, a book was passed around where audience members were invited to write their names if they wanted to perform later in the evening. Vetting these entries would have been a good idea.
The first half of the evening had a good – if slightly bemusing – energy. The host, experienced storyteller and published author Lea Taylor, performed an anecdotal story which, though perhaps overly reverent, had moments of lightness which worked well.
After that, the structure of the evening went out of the window. Taylor’s illustrator Sylvia Troon performed a reedy folk song that the audience were encouraged to join in with. The fact that we didn’t know the words didn’t seem to matter, as the performer didn’t appear to either.
From here, it only got more strange. The next performer told a version of the children’s story about a hen who thinks the sky is falling on her head. As we sang along to the nursery rhyme chorus I had to check that the audience was indeed still full of adults.
The final act of the first half saved it. Though normally a folk singer performing two bluesy originals inspired by his day-to-day life wouldn’t be my cup of tea, he was such a relief after the rest of the first half that I didn’t want him to stop.
The second half of the evening didn’t have any music, which was a painful tone shift. It began with an extract from Taylor’s new play, The Purple, White and Green: The Story of the Scottish Suffragettes which, honestly, I am not keen to attend. The scene managed to fall into every stereotype of a historical piece; the characters spoke in stilted Jane Austen-esque prose in order to heavily hammer home that they were, indeed, in the past, and the hammy acting did nothing to disguise unbearably heavy exposition. As if this wasn’t enough, the story of the Scottish suffragettes featured two English main characters.
The next few stories were okay, if somewhat forgettable. Most followed popular fairy tale structures and whilst all attempted plot twists, only one, where the princess gets a PhD and the prince comes out, worked.
The evening as a whole felt like we were invading someone’s sitting room. From Taylor’s long list of acknowledgements for her new book, to her making an in-joke with her friend in the middle of a story, it felt like an exclusive gang where everyone knew each other- except for the paying audience.
Cafe Voices: Midlothian Tales took place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the 18 January.
Image: Miriam Morris.