Telling it like it is

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Stories are in fashion. The National Year of Reading got off to a splendid start, with the Prime Minister himself recommending children's books for pleasure as well as self-improvement. Storytelling is September's theme and, as if catching a mood, storytelling in performance seems to be ubiquitous this autumn.

Hugh Lupton (storyteller) and Chris Wood (fiddle-player) will be taking their Jack and the Queen of Hearts - an Exploration of Love to Leicester (Guildhall), and the Crick Crack Clubs in Spitalfields, London, and Norwich. This programme of ballads, songs and stories from all over the world, including a section of the "Song of Solomon", is suitable for anyone over 12.

Ben Haggarty will be telling the ancient story of Gilgamesh accompanied by Greek musician Manya Muratou in various London locations, including the British Museum, in November. This 5,000-year-old Sumerian epic from the early Bronze Age tells of a king who is bored and abuses his power. His people call for an equal to be sent to match him.

Haggarty says he has told it to 13 and 14-year-olds and finds they are exhilarated by exercising their imagination in this way; even the recalcitrant beg to stay on after school. "Storytelling is poor man's TV," he says. He does admit that it is "quite erotic", however.

He explains how, in telling the two-hour-long epic, he employs the storyteller's art of improvisation. "Only the essence would have been written down, a distilled version," he says. "It is rather like pulling an end of wool: a whole story comes from a single sentence when you speak it. This is an interpretative art and, when you know the story, according to the variables of time, day, place, mood and audience, you ad-lib.

"Traditional narratives can be used to teach every issue, and we are used to fitting in with the requirements of the curriculum. Now it is literacy in primary schools and the language and rhythms of traditional tales."

Haggarty and his colleagues will, however, visit any age group. For more information on events, school visits and training to be a storyteller, contact Ben Haggarty at Traditional Storytelling Projects , telephone 01886 821 576.

Three well-loved children's stories take to the stage in the next couple of months. The Royal Shakespeare Company is to present The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, its first children's play in Stratford-on-Avon for 30 years. C S Lewis's magical tale of winter-locked Narnia will play in an imaginative repertoire arrangement with The Winter's Tale. (Tickets: 01789 295623) The other two plays, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Jemima Puddleduck and Her Friends, will have more explicit storytelling elements. The first, at the National Theatre (Cottesloe), has been adapted by Tim Supple and David Tushingham from Salman Rushdie's tale of the war between the Guppees, who love talk, and the morose and silent Chupwalas.

Supple has a good line in narrative theatre (his Grimm Tales and Jungle Book at the Young Vic won him an enthusiastic following), and Rushdie is delighted with the adaptation, confident it will retain the essence of the book. Written in 1990, the year after the fatwa was imposed, it expresses his belief in the importance of free speech and an open society, but in humorous, magical terms. He is also pleased to have been the cause of the National bringing together a talented cast of Asian actors.

The National is organising a series of storytelling events inspired by Haroun between October 26 and 30. Jan Blake, a Mancunian Afro-Caribbean storyteller, will be entertaining six-year-olds upwards, and Daniel Morden from Wales will bring Celtic tales to the same age group. (Tickets: 0171 452 3000.) The poet Adrian Mitchell is an admirer of Beatrix Potter's prose and has kept as much as possible of the original tales in Jemima Puddleduck and Her Friends. "I don't believe in writing down," he says, "I believe in writing ahead." "Beatrix Potter" will appear on stage to play the piano, make the introductions and "be on hand if anything goes wrong; you never know quite what might happen with children this age (three to six)". There will be four tales with songs. (Unicorn Theatre, October 11 to November 14; tickets 0171 354 3574.) * Alice is one of the inspirations for Mirror Image: Jonathan Miller on Reflection, an exhibition combining science and art at the National Gallery. There are children's quizzes, lectures and a study morning on November 7. For education events, phone 0171 747 2885.

* Applications are invited for the 1999 Sainsbury's Youth Orchestra series. On offer is up to Pounds 70,000 worth of concert sponsorship, Pounds 10,000 of orchestral tuition and the chance to record with Classic FM. The closing date is October 12. Details and application forms: 0171 221 7883.

* Suffolk Dance is launching a new initiative for dancers in education. The research project, Continuing Good Practice, led by Marion Gough, will take place on November 1415 and March 2728 1999 in Ipswich. Practitioners in education and community dance with at least two years' experience are invited to take part and contribute to a publication based on the research. Contact Jane Mooney: 01473 281866.

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