Monthly Archives: October 2017

Story Jam: Why do we need happy endings?

Everyone knows how the fairy tales end: They all lived happily ever after.

Yeah, right. But why should the princess marry the boring prince and not go off on an adventure of her own? The witch probably had a good point to make. And the youngest son had the advantage of learning from his siblings’ mistakes – he’s hardly a hero.  Happy ever afters are a lie.

In our cynical, post-post-modern world isn’t needing happy endings in stories twee, or childish or – worst of all possible crimes – naïve? But we do need them, and the darker the world gets, the more important they become.

We live in unsettled, upsetting times. Trump, Brexit, trigger fingers near nuclear buttons, glaciers sliding into warming oceans, big business triumphing over the communal good. The voices that are heard are not ours. We do not prevail. And it’s not just that there’s an orange maniac with his finger on the button, or the jumpiness that comes with the reality of being in a big city in anxious times. There are all the other things that shake us and shape us – our own private losses and worries. It all makes us sore at heart.

A story probes our sore hearts – does it hurt here? Here? How about here? – and then reminds our hearts how to feel whole and good.

So there are big, frightening things in the old stories. Everything fractures – parents do not love, home is far away, lovers betray, rulers rule badly, brothers and sisters are separated –all peace is stripped away. And then, after you’ve gone there, after you’ve felt how bad it can get, there is a climb back to justice, love and wholeness. They all live happily ever after.

But happy endings aren’t about sentimentality or some sickly-sweet Disney version of reality; the stories we tell – they’re about us. And the people in them,  they’re us. So we need to know that when the two older sons have failed, the third will succeed. In stories the world gets dismantled and the suspense and excitement comes from understanding it will be rebuilt. If it isn’t, then it’s not just unsatisfying, it’s unfair, unjust and makes us unhappy because we’ve lost all power to make things better.

The storytelling we do uses traditional, old stories. Not old-fashioned, old. And they’ve survived for all this time because they are important and relevant and they tell us things about ourselves and about ourselves in the world. They might be angry Kings instead of insane Presidents, or curses instead of man-made famines but they threaten the world and the people in it, just the same.

Cliff-hangers and shock endings are great, of course. A cliff hanger, a shock-horror screamer of a non-ending that leaves you yelping and gawping, is a lot of fun, and powerful. But only if everyone is in on the game. Then it’s a rewarding, tingling delight. And it can be an alarm rung close to your ear, a wake-up call to arms that says ‘it’ll only be OK if things change, if we do things differently from this.’

But a cliff hanger only works if the happy ending, that satisfying tying up, the breath of relief, is the rule that the cliff-hanger breaks.

Let’s have stories – legends, folktales, wonder tales, old stuff, new stuff-  with happy endings. Let us give ourselves the strength and courage to live and love and make our voices heard.

Of course, there’s a lot to be gained from a tragic ending too, but that, as they say, is another story…

Alys Torrance and Lucy Lill

Story Jam_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC3573

Story Jam is south London’s popular longstanding storytelling night. You can catch top tellers and songsters at Canada Water Theatre on Thursday 19th October and Thursday 7th December at 7.30pm and at the Albany on Thursday 7th November at 7.30pm. Each show features a different line-up and tales from every corner of the world.


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Canada Water Theatre meets Strictly Arts to talk about Freeman

Freeman Poster no text


We are so excited to have Freeman with us at Canada Water Theatre. Can you tell us what it means to you as a piece of theatre?

We have been working on Freeman for close to two years now so it’s very important to us and it’s simply amazing the level of responses we have had from the audiences so far. We ventured in to making theatre to start conversations on topics that we felt were overlooked and were important to us. Freeman seems to be doing that and we couldn’t be prouder.


Why is it important to tell William Freeman’s story?

William Freeman’s story was a very clear point for us in the history of justice and race. A lot of what happens today has its roots in how people like William were treated in the 1800’s. It’s also a very important part of the history of mental health and its relationship with the justice system as he was the first American defendant to plead insanity in court.


If you could change one thing about the theatre industry, what would it be?

We would make it more diverse. If there were a greater number of playwrights, composers and directors from every sort of background we believe there would be a greater diversity at every level of the theatre, and no one would feel like it is an elitist pastime or something that they couldn’t connect to.


Can you describe Freeman in three words?

That’s a tough one… Our audiences have described it as: Provocative, Powerful and Poignant.


Why should audiences come and see it?

Because there’s no other show tackling the relationship between race, mental health and the justice system in the same way.


Freeman is on at Canada Water Theatre on Wednesday 18th October at 7.30pm.

Freeman Production image 2


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Not Bound Within – my journey so far by Naomi Cortes


The Albany has continued to support my work as a Black female playwright and my latest work Not Bound Within will have its play reading in October for Black History Month.

Why be a writer?

I want to amplify, loud hail, create a battle cry for the unheard and the unseen. Those invisible beings who society has forgotten or overlooked. Those like me.

I look at the world around me and wonder how do women of colour continue? Every day is a battle to hold ourselves upright in a society that’s trying to push us over, flatten us and extinguish our fires. The world never tires of telling us we are irrelevant, unimportant and have no value. But we continue to blaze.

And I hear the fires of those women, their pain, their cries of anger when they are threatened, their frustration at being marginalised – and their endurance. And all of this I devote to my work. To my voice.

So, the story of Not Bound Within is about Venus, a young Black woman, in the middle of a crisis. She is fighting with the world and feels she is losing. She is in the darkest of places and we can all relate to this, because at some time in our lives we have been there. Those feelings of helplessness, vulnerability and loneliness are overwhelming. And in Venus’s intense state of mind, the Hottentot Venus – Saartjie Baartman appears. An African woman who was exhibited as a ’freak’ in the early 1800’s and who is an important historical character from Black British History whose legacy still resonates today.

What follows is a story of sexual degradation and economic exploitation, as these two women Venus and Saartjie battle with their pasts, present and their unknown futures.

Why choose theatre?

It chose me. As a mixed race child growing up in Gravesend, Kent with my devout church-going Jamaican mother I was painfully shy. I didn’t speak to anybody, didn’t look anybody in the eye and never spoke up. My mother took me to a Saturday morning drama class – hoping that I would find a little confidence, I suppose. When she came to collect me, she asked the tutor how I’d been. He explained that I hadn’t moved from the safety spot of hiding behind the red curtains for the whole of the class!

I discovered the world of theatre as a shy bully-fodder teenager, who tried to fit in and to my embarrassment and subsequent shame, didn’t succeed. My mother had moved us to London and when I was at Eltham Green School I began to find my voice. I was invited to join the Bob Hope Theatre, now known as Eltham Little Theatre, and performed in Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle with Jude Law. We were as shy as each other. And I remember choosing drama as one of my GCSE options because I was fed up of being bullied, having very little confidence and wanting more. I guess I became fed up of hiding behind the red velvet curtains.

Finding an outlet for my voice is a huge part of this journey and my writing is central. Not Bound Within is a multi-layered encounter which demands to be placed centre stage. It is layered with intricate characters that delight and frustrate, poetic language which absorbs its audience into its cosmos and reveals fascinating themes which entertain, disturb and affect.

I write who I am and place it on stage. Reflected in my writing you see me, a complex and fascinating woman who chooses to exposes her vulnerabilities initially on the page and through collaboration onto the stage.

And then I sit back and watch my magic unfurl. The spell of an actor as she wrestles with the intricacies of poetry and decides to reveal the character’s vulnerabilities, the director’s conjuring as they imbue the themes with their knowledge and decide to take a chance.

And finally the audience. Who have chosen to not have an easy night of nice and gentle theatre but have entered into an agreement, a pact of exchanging, to sit for the duration and see where this fun fair ride takes them.

A genuine voice?

My writing has begun to develop a responsive audience who share with me their feeling of empowerment, seeing stories about Black women, written by a Black woman and performed by Black women in the theatre.

Over the years, I have heard the Black community say to me theatre is not for them and it’s so disheartening. Before she died, I took my mother to see James Baldwin’s, the Amen Corner at the National Theatre and she looked around at the audience and commented, saying how it was full of white people. I smiled and reassured her, saying there will be more on stage but welcome to my world. She loved the show. She joined in with the scripture quotations, the hymns and the Amen’s. But she was right, it was full of white people.

Many Black women feel alienated from the Arts and believe theatre is not for them. So, my work has to continue engaging all women of colour because they have told me they are desperate to see themselves on stage – desperate to see women from their own backgrounds telling their stories, desperate to be a voice which is heard in the theatre.

Our history is either erased or told by others and yet theatre is made for telling everybody’s story. That’s what I’m told and I believe it. My route to the stage was not conventional and for that, I feel slightly behind in the race. I was never any good at sports! We all know the cross-country stories. But I’m in this race forever. Theatre is my world. It is a craft I have developed and continue to share with others. As a writer and actor, a young actors director and drama educational specialist.

So, I must tell these stories because the audiences are there and are just waiting for my invitation!

Not Bound Within is at Canada Water Theatre on Wednesday 11 October, 7.30pm

Tickets are £5 and can be bought here.

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Story Jam: The tale of Phil Okwedy and The London Shanty Collective


A man in a furry suit lead to October’s Story Jam. It’s not often you can say that! Earlier this year, alongside Kate and Ben from the Crick Crack Club, we made a Wild Concert at the Wellcome Collection. Choirs, storytellers, clanging bells, strange creatures roaming the audience – it was quite a night!

When one of the men performing that night as a (very) Wild Man told us he also sings in a shanty choir, our ears pricked up. And when the Albany asked us to do something for Black History Month we knew we could do something unique, right at the heart of our Reel & Unravel Season. We’ve invited Welsh Nigerian storyteller Phil Okwedy and The London Shanty Collective to tell the stories and sing the songs from our shared history: those who were bought, sold and sailed across the ocean, and the truth that binds us all. Let’s go to deep places together.

We hope you will come, we hope you will spread the word, tell your friends and bring them along to Canada Water. Please note Canada Water Theatre is in the modern Library building right beside Canada Water tube. Book Here



Phil Okwedy and The London Shanty Collective

Thursday 19 October | 7.30pm

Canada Water Theatre, Canada Water Library

In the passage from life to death, it is seldom plain sailing and often the final destination is not what was bargained for. In stories of empire, the terrifying experience of the passage on the slave ship is known but largely ignored. Imagine, then, a story in which the suffering of the middle passage leads to the triumph of a final return home. A profound, reflective and powerful night of tales that are particular and universal.

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