The Story Machine: Under Surveillance

Last week, Harvey and I attended an event called The Story Machine as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2017. It was without doubt one of the most thought-provoking and unexpectedly moving events I have ever attended.

I have to confess, I was a little unsure of what to expect. I like literature as much as the next person, but have never attended any literary events, probably since I left school, and rarely find the time to read at all these days. However, the event was described as being 'powered by literature and oiled by theatre' and so I was hooked. 

On 17th May, Harvey and I tentatively entered the Shoe Factory Social Club and, faced with a wall of eyes, picked up our tickets. Our next step was to decide whether we wanted to be citizens or watchers, with no explanation as to what either would entail; we opted to become citizens. 

Being a citizen, it turned out, meant taking part in a little audience participation. From the moment we entered the main room, we were well and truly under surveillance. There were cameras everywhere, which was quite disconcerting when you happened to look up and see your own face on a tv screen. The first chapter of the night, one of five, was very engaging, and transported us to behind the North Korean iron curtain, through the words of Bandi, smuggled out of North Korea by a relative. 

Following the premise of The Story Machine, we made our own journey through the next three chapters of the evening, reconvening at the end of the night for the final chapter, an animated portrayal of Don Quixote and the Ambiguity of Reading, written by Ben Okri (who I later realised was in the audience!). 

My favourite chapter of the evening, however, was our second. We stood under shelter in the Shoe Factory car park, and watched as, in the rain, Sarah Butler and Matthew Winston brought alive The Quiet by Carys Davies, through the medium of dance. The routine was accompanied by music and a voice over, which was both tense and incredibly moving; there were times (particularly towards the end of the piece) when I genuinely had tears in my eyes, not something I ever thought I'd be writing in this blog post. 

That trend was set to continue, however, with our third chapter, Written In The Skin. Put simply, this was a piece of poetry, exploring the "miraculous, mundane and murky" things we do with our body. The poem was read by Melissa Lee-Houghton and William Letford (who, I might add, had the most beautiful Scottish accent) and was both relatable and captivating.

The whole evening far exceeded my expectations. The surroundings of The Shoe Factory Social Club, industrial and stripped back, suited the themes of each piece perfectly, and it was unusual yet soothing to have literature read to me instead of reading it myself. 

Unfortunately this event is not being repeated later in the festival this year, but you can guarantee I'll be buying a ticket for next year if it returns. If you're looking for something a bit different, something thought-provoking and something surprisingly comforting, this is for you. 



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