ONCE UPON A TIME ... Storytelling Isn't Just for Getting the Kids to Sleep -- It's What's Going on in London's Hippest Literary Salons, Says Liz Hoggard -- and It's Definitely Not for the Children
Byline: Liz Hoggard
YOU are at one of London's chicest boutique hotels, drink in hand. Everyone is wearing glamorous nightdresses and pyjamas. A tall dark stranger enters the room and asks you to curl up on cushions on the floor. No you haven't stumbled on an upmarket sex party, this is the Bedtime Story Night at the 40 Winks hotel -- a restored 1717 townhouse in the East End.
"We invite everyone to dress up, there are drinks and nibbles with musical accompaniment and then two professional actors tell us fantastic stories," says the owner, interior designer David Carter. "There are themed nights, such as 'Love and longing', 'Stories to make you dream' and 'Tales of Gothic horror'."
At 40 Winks, guests also have the chance to share and exchange stories of their own. The idea, Carter says, is to emphasise storytelling as something that is natural and innate for all of us. "There's a lovely social dynamic. You are brought together with new people who share a love of dressing up, literature, story and performance."
London is currently awash with storytelling nights. The Crick Crack Club hosts events at the Barbican and Soho Theatre, while the National Theatre has just put on its first adult storytelling event. Spark, Britain's first true-storytelling club, holds events on the first Monday of the month at the Canal Cafe Theatre in Little Venice, for ordinary Londoners to talk about their life experiences.
Cult New York storytelling salon Moth (which has become a US literary phenomenon, with 600,000 iTunes downloads a month) is coming to the Edinburgh Festival later this month.
Once a lost ancient craft, storytelling is now a cool art form to rival rap and poetry jams. "We didn't just want to do another burlesque night," says Carter. "We wanted to engage people on a more intellectual level."
Storytelling nights are inexpensive. You can put across a complex epic without a big cast, lighting or scenery, just through the power of the human voice. They also offer a unique experience. Often stories are never written down, so they change every time, subtly transformed by the audience -- and the mood of the teller.
Actor Peter Searles is a professional storyteller. He has turned his love life into a one-man show (Sex with Pete Searles), as well as creating an award-winning trilogy of shows (Hey Gringo) based on his hair-raising travels in South America. "There's nothing to beat a funny story welltold. It's bare-bones theatre at its best," he explains. "For years, storytelling was the less sexy cousin of stand-up. But it's definitely in the ascendant now."
Searle also holds "out of your seat" workshops with corporate clients to teach communication, improvisation and body language. "It's a brilliant discipline to exercise all these performance skills. …