A few days ago I went back to the International School of Storytelling at Emerson College to give a performance of The Storyteller’s Tale with my friend, singer and musician, Shanee Taylor. It was a good evening: an enthusiastic audience (mainly students at the School and friends from Forest Row) and about £175 raised for Baale Mane, a home for girls rescued from the streets of Bangalore.
I have adapted the story (with permission) from the novella of the same name by Omair Ahmad. It is a stirring tale of banditry, betrayal, unlikely friendship , storytelling and dangerous love set in 18th century India and I love to tell it. But it is long and complex with a large cast of characters and several interwoven stories, and telling it is always a challenge.
As well as remembering the action and the dialogue, I have to reach into my imagination to describe the sights, sounds, scents and textures of the landscape. At the same time, I must try to recreate the unique features of each character: bandit chief, begum, emir, prince, wood-cutter’s son, magistrate, seductress, servant, and the storyteller himself.
Each time I tell the story I learn a little more about the world these characters inhabit; each time I learn something more about my own capacities and limitations as a storyteller. No telling is perfect (indeed to seek perfection would ossify the performance) but each time there are moments – and sometimes more than moments – when my imagination soars.
At such times, both I and the audience are transported to places we can only ever visit in flights of fancy. I am reminded of some lines from a wonderful song: King of Rome written by Dave Sudbury.
In the West End of Derby lives a working man
He says “I can’t fly but my pigeons can
And when I set them free
It’s just like part of me
Gets lifted up on shining wings”
The song moves me to tears every time I hear it. Maybe because, as a storyteller, I sometimes feel the same way: I can’t fly but my stories can. Here is my favourite version, sung by June Tabor (allow a few seconds for the audio to begin).