Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Breaking the rules

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

This week, I’m owning up to breaking what has always seemed to be a rule among storytellers. When first I fell into storytelling, it was the early days of the storytelling revival. At that time, as I wrote in this blog a while ago, even such a thing as including a poem in a storytelling session was regarded as not allowed. Ever since, I’ve also felt aware that, as a storyteller, I should never expect or be expected to read something in public. No. My role, I felt, was to maintain the distinction between reading and telling and to bring to the fore the art of telling without a script.

Doing readings:

So let me admit to breaking that rule on two London occasions (and also, I’ll now admit, a year ago down in Pembrokeshire too).  The second London occasion happened last Sunday evening; the first had taken place in December a year ago. On both these London occasions, my husband Paul was giving a concert at Clapham Omnibus Theatre in aid of Crisis, the homelessness charity. Paul does the singing with his friend Steve playing the piano and this year, I’d say, they outshone what they did last year and in their first Crisis concert the previous year too. It was during this year’s event, as during last year’s, that I did readings. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Settling into a story

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Roses 3Do stories need explanation? And what kind of explanations might be needed for a story from an unfamiliar culture? I did wonder a bit about these issues while preparing The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile for telling to the older children in Wolfscastle School this last Monday. No wide cultural diversity there except for that between Welsh and English. Probably little awareness of Muslim culture. No great variety among children’s names. Certainly nothing like Farid, Faruz and Farizad.

But what explanation does a good story need? I plumped for just going ahead, telling the story without explanation. First I’d told the wonderfully daft story of Shemi and the Enormous Cabbage. Older they might be but they enjoyed that a lot. Then I came to the Farizad story. This is in a very different vein and how it begins is rather a shock. For it tells how, over the course of the three years following the marriage of the King of Persia to the youngest of three sisters, the king is told that his queen has given birth to a dead dog, a dead cat and a dead mouse. Can this be true? No, these are just lies. The queen has actually given birth to three babies and it’s her jealous sisters who have made up the stories.

Would they stick with it? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Haunting

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

Encouraged by comments on last week’s blog – that the poem was haunting and so, so sad – I reached down my box-file labelled Songs, Poems, Sayings. In it, I found much I’d forgotten and much I felt I’d like to share – rhymes for Early Years children, chants and sayings to introduce storytelling sessions and also several other haunting poems. Here’s one of them: Green Candles by Humbert Wolfe.

P1080300Green Candles:

‘There’s someone at the door,’ said gold candlestick;
Let her in, let her in quick!’
‘There is a small hand groping at the handle:
Why don’t you turn it?’ asked green candle.

‘Don’t go, don’t go,’ said the Hepplewhite chair,
lest you find a strange lady there.’
‘Yes, stay where you are,’ whispered the white wall,
there is nobody there at all.’

‘I know her little foot,’ grey carpet said:
Who but I should know her light tread?’
‘She shall come in,’ answered the open door,
‘and not,’ said the room, ‘go out any more.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Three Sisters and a Great Occasion

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

IMG_20160805_142445_resized_20160805_070831215Today, I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before – telling a story at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Two storytellers who live in Wales, Marion Oughton and Cath Little, have invited me to join them in the storytelling session they’re giving in the Welsh Learners’ tent on the Eisteddfod field. This will be a pleasure. The National Eisteddfod is an annual event, held in a different part of Wales each year and oscillating between the north of the country and the south. This year it’s being held in Y Fenni (known in English as Abergavenny) and it’s proving extremely well-organised and highly successful. In the two days I’ve been here already, I’ve loved it.

My story: Three Sisters

The story I intend to tell – in Welsh of course – is a story about three of Wales’s best-known rivers. At the start, we meet three sisters living on top of a mountain in mid-Wales (and therefore not far from Y Fenni). They make their clothes out of birds’ feathers. They wash in the limpid pools of water left on the mountain top by the rains. When they look into the distance they can see the sea and sometimes they get a scent of it. They fantasise. What would it be like to go to the sea?

Fantasy in this story turns  into a definite plan as the sisters decide that the very next day they will go and visit the sea. What will the seashore be like, the oldest sister wondered. Will the sea shine? the middle sister asked. Would they see silver fish in the waves asked the youngest.

In the morning, the eldest sister woke early and decided to go some of the way down the mountain at once to see what the journey would be like. She dressed and washed and then, putting her feet in a pool of water,  drew the water behind her as she started down the mountain. But the countryside around her was so lovely,  she completely forgot her plan to return for her sisters and, instead, went smoothly on. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Attitude

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Tableau_vivant_Nederlands-Indië_TMnr_60050223[1]Our local cinema, the Ritzy in Brixton, has a  giant noticeboard above the entrance with names of the films it’s currently showing. Occasionally this noticeboard shows a birthday greeting, presumably to someone local. At the start of this week, there was a quite different message. It was:  


Of course, that message caught my attention.  I wondered if it could be a quote, perhaps from the great jazz artist, Miles Davis. A documentary film about him was due to be shown with a Q and A session to follow. Then the message persisted in getting my attention whenever I thought about it during the week.  Attitude is a word with so many connotations. Often, it’s used with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to convey a suitable or unsuitable approach, especially from pupils, students or persons at work. It can be feisty, even threatening. ‘Don’t give me that attitude.’

Attitude: a theatrical form (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Best story ever (for young ones)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

DSCN5231For any storyteller, it’s a heartening moment when you learn that a story you’ve told has succeeded in engaging a child. It’s even better when the story has become part of a kind of chain. You told it to a group of adults and it’s one of them that passed it on to the child concerned.

This week I had one such moment when I received the following message from Hilary Minns at Warwick University. Hilary has for many years been running a module on Stories and Storytelling for people pursuing Early Childhood studies. The story she refers to is one I’ve told there a number of times.

Hilary’s message:

A little story: one of my students has a group of seven children with special learning needs. Among them is a 6 year old autistic boy who, she says, dislikes stories intensely and who wriggles and squirms around at storytime. But she told him Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle, complete with actions, and he was transfixed. He then asked her to make the characters into Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle and said they had to change houses. At break time she observed this boy retelling the story to a friend!


Storytelling Starters ~ Don’t look back!

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Music has such evocative power. On Tuesday, both sadness and joy were present in spades during the Proms performance in the Albert Hall of Monteverdi’s Orfeo.  Now regarded as one of the earliest operas, Orfeo tells the story of the marriage of Orpheus and his subsequent quest. Throughout it, you’re aware of Orpheus as the hero whose singing had such beauty, it was said, that it had the power to attract the wildest of beasts and even to move inanimate things.

Orpheus’ marriage:

GondolaFor all his other adventures, the high point of Orpheus’  life was his marriage to Eurydice. So ecstatically happy did she make him that he was cast into the uttermost depths of grief when, running away from a would-be lover, she was bitten by a snake and died from the poison. After her death, Orpheus became completely unable to imagine living without her. In his bereavement, he determined to do what had never previously been done by any living mortal: try and find a way into the darkness of the Underworld, there to plead either to be given  back his wife or, if his pleas failed,  to be allowed to stay there with her.

Orpheus’ quest:

Orpheus set off on his mission and found his way to the river Lethe, the border between the lands of the living and dead. There with his lyre and his singing, he managed to lull to sleep the boatman, Charon, who rows the souls of the dead across the river. After penetrating Hades, the world of the dead, Orpheus came into the presence of Pluto, its king, and his wife Persephone.  With all his power, he began to plead to be allowed to take Eurydice back to the land of the living. Eventually, he succeeded. Pluto granted she might go with him on the condition that, on the way, he must not once look back at her until she had come into the full light of the sun.

Well, we all know what happened – or at least, we should for it was the most heart-rendingly human thing. Just as he was about to emerge from the gloom of the Underworld, something made Orpheus turn. Was it a sudden noise? A moment of self-doubt? Was his wife really behind him? Whatever made him do it, he turned and as he did so saw the form of his beloved fade and dissolve into the shades of the Underworld. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In my beginning is my end

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

P1070042A young woman asked me the other day: ‘How do you end a story?’ It’s a very good question! The first point I made in reply was the one I feel to be the most important.  

Facing up to the silence

In storytelling, you have to recognise from the very beginning that there’s going to have to be an end to whatever tale you are telling. It may come after ten minutes, an hour, several hours or even days. But an end will have to arrive and after the end, there will be a silence. Unavoidable? Yes. Uncomfortable? Only if you’re not ready for it. Long or short, that ensuing silence should be part of the magic. Be ready for it. It’s one of the interstices between the world of story and the world of here and now. There’s a lot of power in it. Sometimes you have to be brave to face it.

Preparing the last sentence (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Proof of power

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

What makes children sit up and listen?

What makes children remember what they’re told?

What makes children respond and comment without being obliged to do so?

Well, storytelling does. The trouble is, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know the truth of that. It’s how to spread the awareness that is the problem.

All day this last Wednesday came evidence of how children can listen and be gripped. The supply of questions and comments was fulsome and never chaotic (evidence of a good school, I’d say). But the most extraordinary thing was how, all day, children were remembering stories I’d told them before. From Reception to Year 6, there was enormous keenness not just to identify what stories they’d heard but exactly what happened in them.  They also remembered my props. And it wasn’t just one or two children that were doing this, just about all of the children were bursting to say what they remembered.  Only the Nursery children didn’t – but then, they were new to the school.

The school was St Stephen’s in Shepherd’s Bush. I’d been there three times before. In the course of this week’s visit, one girl in one session put her hand up looking troubled. ‘I can’t remember these stories,’ she said. It obviously really bothered her that she didn’t, as if she was feeling really hurt that she’d missed out on something everyone else had experienced. We thought perhaps she’d been off school when I’d come before and she seemed content with that thought. But seeing her face, I realised the power of a communal event in which everybody can share and experience enjoyment. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Pure pleasure

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

‘Pleasure is a really profound form of attention.’ This thought-provoking remark was made this last Thursday in a lecture by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Award-winning children’s book author, co-creator of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, Professor of Reading at Liverpool Hope University, he was delivering this year’s Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture.

Magic door croppedWide-ranging and enormously funny, Frank’s lecture –  Homerton College, Cambridge was the venue – focussed on what can happen when we listen to something being read to us. How it draws us in. How it makes us expectant. How a reason it can affect us so much is that it doesn’t oblige us to do anything else. It doesn’t require us to speak or answer or write – nothing at all except take it in. As Frank said, it’s a profound form of attention, and that can be a most profound pleasure.

And what can ruin it? Make us freeze up or only partly respond? As the audience to the lecture was offered a list of what can only be described as enemies to real attention, we all sighed in recognition. Being told in advance that we’d be asked questions about what we’ve heard? Dreading that we’d be expected to write something creative in immediate response? Or even not being given enough of the reading in the first place?

One great effect of Frank’s lecture for me – and it was full of told stories, his own personal stories about his grandmother and her room full of ticking clocks, his grandfather who was born with a caul round his head, the children and the youths that he’s met – was that it made me feel the deep kinship between what he described as the effects of reading and what I know as the effects of storytelling. They are so much the same: it’s the enormous power of story (good story) to move, awaken and deeply educate.

Enough said. Except it does have to be said again and again, more clearly and in ever more places where, especially in education today, there is so little recognition of its truth. How many times have teachers said to me, ‘We don’t have time for stories in our school’? How many times have parents said, ‘I’d forgotten about all this kind of thing’? (more…)