“(Imogen) has a warm stage presence and a very accessible style, chatting easily and involving us gently in the proceedings… direct storytelling that invites you to meet it all with your own imagination. This is theatre of simplicity; the whole show has a throughly traditional feel…something settling, something to spark the imagination and warm the heart.”
(Paul Levy, Fringe Review, 2015)
Inspiration for my storytelling comes from a very many places, not least the wealth of traditional folktales and fairy stories from around the world, and especially from old English and Celtic sources.
I’m particularly inspired by the Finnish creative Tove Jansson, and find her style of storytelling (across her Moomin books and other novels and short stories) to be very wonderful; you can hear her speaking voice in her text, and this gives it a human-ness and warmth that is very calming. I also gain much strength from the introduction to Phillip Pullman’s edition of the Brother’s Grimm collection. With his words, he has inspired confidence in a not very confident storyteller!
A story takes time to arrive; some stories find me, others I search for; sometimes it’s a character or motif that is in my awareness that is pushing to get my attention, and given time, somehow it all comes together into something that wants to be spoken or told, sometimes performed with handmade things.
Like making a decent cup of tea (or more accurately, coffee), a story must percolate and brew, steep and settle, blend and be transformed and transfigured into substance. Waiting was never my strong point, but I am (contrary to this statement), rather patient when it comes to waiting for the Story Muse to strike. One must be ready to recognise her and act with swift courage and find a pen, pencil or eyeliner, and dictate what She is telling you (when the very specific feeling She is at hand falls upon one, like a shimmering shadow). In this way, a story forms and I am honoured to write it down. These are not new stories; they are old old threads picked up and re-spun in the heart, mind’s eye & mouth. And being spun from gold, these words shine and are priceless, and like any soulful treasure, long to be shared and not buried in the dark.
“The Mermaid’s Tale” is one such story and I’ve been inspired to at least try and find out what could happen in the space between the pen and the mouth, how a story changes and grows, and what it means to share my work in this way with others.
“Senara; A Cornish Folktale” is the story of the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor, as told to me by a Vicar in this small Cornish fishing village one beautiful October. I’ve also sat in conversation with Senara, a now sainted scarlet woman, and she would like it to be known she’s not all that bad, or all that good either. The truth of the root of a tale is a slippery fish, and Senara has the prerogative to change her mind, like any proud and mysterious woman. She dictated a beautiful prayer to me, and I use it to finish her story, often with a few tears from the listeners, such is her wisdom. We have many more meetings to come, she and I; (I can hear her whispering, “there is work to be done…”)
“Vasilisa the Brave & The Tale of Baba Yaga” is one that’s been brewing for a good five years; I was told the original tale by storyteller Joanna Hruby, and the symbols worked on me during my dance with depression some years ago. At first, Grandmother Baba Yaga terrorised me, she haunted my nights and crept about in the shadows by day. She was my Gatekeeper to the Underworld, all bones and fire, a bloody red grin and cackles in the dark. But when I started to turn towards recovery, she stayed with me, and she became The Midwife, a helper and I found strength in her ancient wanderings about the kitchen. She taught me about the healing properties of tea, the perfume of soil and the life beneath the oil-slicked waterways of Hackney Wick. She gifted me a black cat to watch me when she was away with another depressed journeyer; she is kept very busy. Now she and I have an understanding, I can tell people about her maternal side, so long as I keep her wild and very naughty nature at the fore. She is also very dangerous, as she sifts the living from the dead with her soil and poppy seeds. I am lucky she was patient, and I eventually chose the soil.
Hand in hand with Baba Yaga is the legendary Vasilisa the Beautiful, which she undoubtedly is, but she is also Vasilisa the Brave, and I work with this motherless child who is transitioning into her womanhood. I am reminded there is always a girl within every woman, and she needs to get her Grandmother’s wisdom, somehow, and it is an essential task. I was privileged to have been at three workshops in the last week with the storyteller Martin Shaw, and he said something that took my breath away. He spoke of Vasilisa, and that whilst she is the child in the forest, she is also the woman at the edge of the world, know by some as the soul, and that she won’t be courted by just anyone. Vasilisa will only come for those who can make by hand, who can craft her something beautiful and worthy. I hope I have done her proud with my offerings made in her honour and in blissful ignorance of the task she had set me. A powerful moment of insight gifted by someone who knows their story-onions, many thanks to Martin for shining a light at the moment it was needed.
This is where my puppets come in; they are very wonderful storytellers and embody the characters and settings I see when I look into the realm of story; the otherworld of the hidden folk, the place out of time, and these handmade things add another layer to the already packed layers of the symbolism and markers within all stories.
In this way I also hope to unite two worthy crafts; that of the artisan hand-made aspects of theatre- making, and the creative act of the telling a of a story in performance.
(Here’s a link to some of my stories; Imogen on Soundcloud)
“The puppetry is simply done and draws the eye, in a performance space lovingly created with beautiful, natural things, carefully and consciously placed… she shares her story as a beautifully crafted galleon ship is softly rocked with her foot.”
(Paul Levy, Fringe Review, 2015)