by Hannah Rose

CW: mentions of sexual assault

Think of your best friend, I bet they spin a good yarn. No doubt they think the same about you. The exchange of life stories is how the finest, most novel human bonds are made. It’s within these intimate, warm spaces where the stories of our lives unfold; cementing who we are, rooting memory, making kaleidoscopes of our imaginations.

This is the essence of True Stories Live—the invention of Norfolk producer Lucy Farrant and writer and host Molly Naylor. TSL is both a celebration and an exploration of the power of storytelling. Its one year anniversary show took place at Norwich Arts Centre last week, having moved from the cosiness of the Arts Centre bar and onto the main stage to make room for a bigger audience—a testament to its growing popularity. Eight storytellers were asked to perform an unscripted account of a true life story of theirs on the theme of No Regrets – which was completely open to interpretation by storytellers.

a celebration and an exploration of the power of storytelling

Told with humility and humour, Antoinette Moses recalled a story from her youth involving a curious wounded stranger, scrambled eggs, and a gun; Jeremiah Humphreys-Piercy shared a tale of declaring love which he half knew would be unrequited.  Writer and comedian Sara Pascoe ended the first part of the night recounting her experiences, which are all-too familiar for many women, of being subjected to sexual assault—the grotesque and silent kind that takes place in public spaces: on the tube, in the street. Talk to any woman, and she will have a story to tell. Pascoe told the story of not speaking out and the silence that surrounds the shame that follows sexual assault. Shame thrives in silence but, by wrapping words around it, Pascoe did something important in diminishing the power some men believe they have over women.

Michael Lengsfield, Samantha Rajasingham and Rosie Arnold followed with tales of formative relationships in far-away places; stories of racial identity and frustration in a predominantly white world; an encounter with a bird twitcher, good friends and a herd of mean-looking wild horses. Mel James’ finished the spoken word set with a story featuring taxidermy and the love of a family. It’s funny what we remember of a good story: fragments of the stories have returned to me. The most memorable being: “We’re having brown sex!”

( Sara Pascoe © Andi Sapey )

I felt the sharp edge of regret when Gavin Osborn finished the evening with his song recalling a particularly memorable night in 1997 as a student in Norwich: the biggest landslide victory for the Labour Party in decades. A surge of optimism and hopefulness enveloped that election, seducing so many into what we now view as a false sense of political security. Regret comes in many guises, and the Blair years–undermined by the decision to invade Iraq–taught Britain something about the trust we place in our political leaders and, ultimately, the abuse of that trust by politicians.

I thought of Corbyn and the rigour with which he is holding on to his socialist values, which feel to me to be a lone voice against the neo-liberal ideology and establishment spin which is engulfing this election. Whatever is thought of as Corbyn as a political leader, his political values have integrity; they are humane values. Worth voting for, I feel. Can our shared human history, I wonder, evolve under the strapline of No Regrets, the way our singular lives might? I wonder if the stakes are too high for this to be true.

Storytelling spaces, where listening and speaking are given equal value, are under threat

Storytelling spaces, where listening and speaking are given equal value, are under threat. Our political forums and media streams are not democratic spaces where commitment to fairness is exercised. This is why the True Stories Live movement feels important right now—in an age of fake news, manipulated messages, and political spin which turns ‘pacifist’ into a dirty word. Where else do we carve out spaces to really listen to one another and find threads of commonality between strangers?

Daring to be vulnerable in order to seek out love felt like the fibre connecting all eight storytellers, and despite the risk of sounding a bit sappy, isn’t this just the kind of risk the world needs to take to achieve peace? The risk of daring to understand one another? Artistic spaces, which have forever responded to the trajectory of human power struggles, might be our saving grace as the Right gains power across Europe. Empathy is a hard task to master, but it always begins with a true story. We must never underestimate the power of storytelling.

Featured image Molly Naylor © Andi Sapey

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