Brighton Festival 2021
Two children’s books by Sam McBratney are given a fine storytelling treatment by a wonderfully engaging entertainer.
This was my first time at the theatre in over a year. Oh, I was proper buzzing, and my four-year-old was pretty excited too. I’m so glad it’s back.
Liz Fost is an explosive and captivating storyteller. She gives off the air of knowing every one of us personally, and has a fantastic knack of getting even the stubbornest adults to join in the show’s interactive elements. Of which there are a lot. Practically every single sentence of the story has at least one associated action – she’ll have us scrabbling in the earth, reaching for the stars, and everything in between. My daughter loved it. All the kids loved it. Hey, who am I kidding – I loved it.
I’m not entirely convinced by the way today’s two stories were spliced together. To be honest, it’s possible my daughter was doing a particularly acrobatic bit of hare-acting at the critical moment, but I found myself going “Oh! What happened to the female character? We’re on to a different story! What happened? What was the climax of the first story?” I suspect Liz tried to transition seamlessly from one to the other (the two lead characters, after all, were the same), but the way it was done was just a little confusing for me.
The actual recounting of the two stories took up only half of the 45-minute slot. Proceedings began with a genuinely interesting natural science lesson as to the differences between rabbits and hares – I’d always wondered! And then after the stories, two treats lay in store for us – first, as if we hadn’t done enough joining in already, we were lead through a pretending-to-be-different-types-of-animals game that bordered on keep fit and left Liz with hardly the energy left for the grand finale – a really catchy song that I was humming for most of the rest of the day.
I opened by describing the experience as being “at the theatre”. But this isn’t theatre – it’s storytelling. As a theatremaker who likes to tread the boundaries between theatre and other forms, I’ve done some pondering since the event upon the difference between the two – what makes this storytelling and not theatre? This certainly wasn’t a ‘book reading’ – there were gentle but committed (‘theatrical’, you might say) characterisations of the different characters. Two obvious elements that mark this out as storytelling but not theatre have occurred to me: firstly, the books being read were displayed on a table centre-stage, as if the whole thing were an advert for the physical paper book. And secondly, it seems acceptable in storytelling to read your lines off paper (not the actual physical book this time, but a sheet of A4).
That might read like criticism, but it’s not – it didn’t bother me in the slightest, because of the way Liz had us hooked from the moment she appeared. My daughter and I didn’t know the stories before today’s event, but they came across extremely well, and particularly in the case of the second story, the more famous, the “title track” as it were, it’s very clear why this is already regarded as something of a classic of children’s literature. I would recommend any reading by Liz Fost – her warmth and humour created a wonderful atmosphere. What a treat to welcome us back to live performance after such a long time away.