The Story Machine



The best part of the Norfolk &Norwich Festival this year was…well there was so much I enjoyed that it’s hard to isolate one part of it.  I went to poetry readings and short films at Fierce Light, I  cycled by the public duke box belting out music at full pelt in Chapelfield Gardens and spent a memorable evening watching a large piece of redundant car-making machinery in motion with two acrobats.  The most delicious event, however, was the one I booked at the last minute, after seeing a post on Twitter and deciding to take a risk and spend yet more money on tickets.  I told my husband and he decided he was up for the outing as well, so I bought another ticket and off we went to Dragon Hall, which now houses the Writers’ Centre and hosted The Story Machine as part of the 2016 festival.


To my shame I had never previously visited Dragon Hall, even though it’s on my doorstep and is frequently mentioned in tourist information for this area.  Why is it that you have to host visitors before you go and see the famous attractions in your area?  Is it just me or does everyone leave the 2nd eleven sights until they have to find an outing for guests?  As we found somewhere to park and approached Dragon Hall, I was already feeling smug, knowing that even if the event was boring I could finally say that I had visited Dragon Hall and of course I’m familiar with its medieval delights!


It turned out that the venue enhanced the event in many ways.  The ‘other worldliness’ of a hall built in the 1420s, with oak beams standing out against uneven white walls and a soaring ceiling height, together with the size of the hall, was well suited to the audience of about 100 people.


The event lasted three hours, which normally would be a long evening at the theatre or a concert but in this case flashed past as we made a decision each half hour about which room to go to and which story to listen to, from the comprehensive leaflet we were given on arrival.  The first session gathered everyone together in the Great Hall and a unnerving tale was read to us by the author dressed in scrubs, about a difficult medical situation with ethical consequences.  I was gripped and as I was seated in the front row, was the recipient of a lucky charm mentioned in the story.   I’m a sucker for a free sample and it brought me even closer to the storyteller.  What a start!


During the evening the bar was open selling cocktails designed to follow the theme of each story.  Cocktails are not really my thing, I’d rather have a glass of wine, but it was great to see that the event was attended not only by old stick in the muds like us, but by plenty of young folk who enjoyed the stories and the cocktails.


Each story was brought to life by being read aloud and had one additional channel of communication.  In the first, the reader was dressed in character, in others some slides were shown, music played or on the case of a Katherine Mansfield story, one or two key props were used.  Here it was an inkpot and pen, as the heartbreak of two men was portrayed, due to the loss of their sons in WWI but they still maintained a stiff upper lip.  On arrival we had to book to see the Electrification Trilogy, which took place down in the under croft, with only candles for lighting and a rather small stone ledge for seating.  A memorable section of this was acted out as a soliloquy and was in turns funny and tragic, as a woman bemoaned the coming of electricity to her village, as she could now see the squalor in which she lived.


Having enjoyed Here we Are, by Lucy Caldwell, I was tempted into buying a copy of her book, and am now immersed in her northern Irish short stories, each one a pearly treat to be savoured like the last boiled sweet.


Being read to is very relaxing and immersive, you can close your eyes and let the story take you away in a way that’s hard to do in our over busy world.   The Story Machine took me back to the excitement and delight of being read to as a child and also of reading aloud to my own children when they were young.  So, bravo to The Story Machine, please come again next year.

Do you like what you have read here?  If so, please leave a comment below.


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