The beloved storytelling event Tell Me on a Sunday returned for one special evening, as part of the fourteenth annual Birmingham Book Festival. Relocating from its usual abode, Café Ikon, the event catered for a larger audience on the second floor gallery, currently host to the Arefin & Arefin exhibition. Presented by the enigmatic Cat Weatherill – story-telling extraordinaire and Tell Me on a Sunday facilitator – the dimly-lit, cabaret-esque room captured the audience’s imagination before the seven storytellers even took to the stage.
The night kicked off with a performance from the national storytelling laureate, Katrice Horsley. A feisty and engaging performer, Horsley told the story of her relationship with her Uncle, maintaining a gentle balance of humour and sentiment throughout. Exploring a variety of issues, from the speech impediment she suffered as a child, to her belief in magic and fairies, Horsley created a believable and surprisingly relatable world for her adult listeners.
The next storyteller was the lovely, and slightly gawky, Tom Philips. He presented a narrative of ‘firsts’ – first time on an aeroplane, first time in America – as he went to work at Camp America, aged eighteen. The tale began fairly light-hearted, as he recalled the funny incident where he rescued a young child who was sitting on the front porch, happily sharing his sweets with a black bear. Reminiscent of a coming-of-age film, Tom told us about how his plan to travel across the USA, ending in New York, was thwarted when his friend opted for a female companion instead. Visiting New York at a different time and returning to England earlier than he had planned, Tom recounted sitting watching television with his Dad when news of the 9/11 tragedy appeared on screen. If Tom had kept to his original plans, he would have been in Manhattan that day.
South-African born, Tell Me on a Sunday regular, Gavin Jones graced the stage next. He took the audience back sixteen years, as he told a story of family rejection and what it was like when he first moved to England and, eventually, Birmingham. Funny and tragic in one breath, the audience were visibly moved. Jones was succeeded by three more storytellers, Gorg Chand, Jane Campion and Natalie Cooke, who continued to enchant the listeners. Each story was different in tone and content but the high quality never faltered.
Although storytelling is an art form, and therefore a rehearsed and crafted genre, the performances were effortless and held the illusion of spontaneity. In each seven minute segment, the audience were transported to a small part of the teller’s life – to laugh, cry and share in lessons learnt. It was a humbling occasion that, though riddled with the potential for cliché, avoided it entirely.
Tell me on a Sunday: Season Two will return to Café Ikon on January 27th.
For a full list of Bham Book Fest events: http://www.birminghambookfestival.org/events-2012/full-festival-programme/