Bartholomew blogs

To follow my current thoughts and experiences as I navigate the world of storytelling read on. For earlier blogs follow the links

An Epic in an Evening

February 2020

I seem to have spent a lot of time this month in the company of a fisherman and a genie, thanks to An Epic in an Evening – the annual co-production between Heads & Tales and Southampton Story Club. The epic in question was the Tales from the Arabian Nights, and I was telling the second part of The Fisherman and the Genie, a.k.a. The Fish of Four Colours. The whole of this section was split between four tellers and ran as follows.

  1. The Fisherman and the Genie (Nicole): A fisherman brings up a bottle containing a genie. When released, the genie threatens to kill the fisherman. Using guile and cunning the fisherman tricks the genie into re-entering the bottle and traps him (again).
  2. The Sultan Yunan and the Sage Duban (Mike): The fisherman tells the genie a story of the sage Duban who cures the Sultan Yunan’s leprosy. Unfortunately, this gives rise to jealousy in the court and the Sultan has him executed, with dire consequences for the Sultan.
  3. The Fish of Four Colours (me): The Fisherman releases the genie on the promise of a great reward and is taken to lake containing red, white, yellow, and blue fish. He catches one fish of each colour and presents them to the Sultan. Odd things … on second thoughts, very odd things, happen when they are cooked, and the Sultan decides to investigate. He arrives at a palace and finds a prince whose legs have been turned to stone.
  4. The Enchanted Prince or The Prince of the Black Isles (Dan): The prince tells his story.

I was interested to see how the story was presented across different versions of the text. The first one that I read was in Tales from Arabian Nights, an American version first published in 1913. My copy, which I’ve had since I was a boy is a 1966 reprint.

Tales from Arabian Nights based on a translation by Edward William Lane, edited by Frances Jenkins Olcott. Published by Whitman Classics 1966.

This presents the stories as indicated above but has a couple of oddities. For instance, the, leprous, Sultan Yunan is described as a Grecian King. Duban, in this version, cures the leprosy by placing the medicine into the hollow handle of a golf club – in all the other versions I’ve read it’s a polo mallet.

The version that Paul, our organiser, sent out presents section one as usual. Halfway through section two it introduces another story, the tale of King Sindbad and the Falcon, told by Yunan. Here we are entering into Russian Doll territory with a story within a story, within a story. This then runs straight into the second half of section two and onto the end of section three with no break.

The version on starts at the beginning and runs straight through to the end of section three without a break. However, the story of Yunan and Duban is omitted and, only receives a passing mention.

Now, although I was only working on one small section, I did read the complete cycle a couple of times, just to get the overall picture of how everything fitted together. It was while I was working on the story that someone posted a question on the Society for Storytelling Facebook page – “How do you learn new stories?” One of the answers, “Try retelling it from the point of view of another character,” struck a chord so I went off, had a think, and came up with The Genie and the Fisherman, which you can read by clicking on the title. I showed it to Dan, who commented, “It would make a good first-person narrative.” So, I went away, had another think, and came up with The Genie – click on the title to read it.

So how did the performances go? There were nine of us slated to tell, most of us from Heads & Tales, two from Southampton.

  • Paul – organized the performance and acted as the narrator
  • Mike – the story of why King Shahriar became a misogynist + the story of Yunan & Duban
  • Nicole – The Fisherman and the Genie, part 1
  • Me – The Fisherman and the Genie, part 2
  • Dan – The Prince of the Black Isles
  • Christobel (Southampton) – Delilah and the Anklet, (an Arabian Cinderella)
  • Tess (Southampton) – The Woman and her Five Lovers
  • Maddie & Janet – The Ebony Horse

We had over 20 for the first session in Southampton and apart from some of us over running – we were supposed to have 10 minutes each – it went well. Nicole had been struck down with a cold, so Paul covered her story. Tess’s Woman and her Five Lovers was a revelation and there was a hilarious moment in Maddie & Janet’s Ebony Horse – after a prince singlehandedly defeats an army of 10,000 men, Janet had the Sultan declaring, “Quick, get the historians to write this down, we can’t trust the storytellers to get it right!”

The Ringwood audience was bigger – about 24. This time it was Tess who was ill, so Paul & Mike performed her story as a two hander. On the whole, the evening was slicker, but I found myself cutting out some of the detailed descriptions of the young King’s palace – a pity because those extra details, which bring the story’s world to life, are the bits that I really enjoy. I was, however, able to make an ‘improvement.’ In the first performance, after the fisherman receives 400 gold Dinar for his fish I said, “That night the fisherman and his family ate well.” While running through the story on the afternoon of the performance I had an idea and the line became, “That night the fisherman and his family had indigestion from the richness of the food they ate,” (cue laughter).

This might not have been the last performance of the epic, as Paul has suggested that we might take it to the Romsey Storytelling Festival, in October.

March’s Heads & Tales evening will be a performance of The Kitchen Cat by Marion Leeper, from Cambridge – a new take on the Cinderella story. I’ve got the first Great Fire of London performance for Dorset Blind and I’m helping Kit with his new presentation – all in all it’s a busy month ahead.

It’s All Gone Quiet

January 2020

If you discount the fairy/folk stories that I’ve been telling to my grandson

  • Hansel & Gretel,
  • 2 Russian tales – Mrs. Rabbit’s House & Zippy Who Nearly Choked,
  • The Johnny Cake – see September 2019’s blog for an explanation as to what a Johnny Cake is,

January has been a quiet month with only one opportunity to tell at Heads & Tales. Our meeting night, Thursday 16th, coincided with some terrible weather – it was blowing a gale and hammering down with rain – as a result of which only seven of us braved the storm and turned up and only four of us were telling.

The theme of the evening was Pantomime, either the stories that pantomimes are based on or stories with themes that crop up in pantomimes. I had decided on either, Robin Hood and the Butcher, (Robin Hood appears as a character in Babes in the Wood), or The Famous Flower of Serving Men, (has a young woman cross dressing as a man). As it happens, Raph had also prepared a Robin Hood story, but luckily it was a different one to mine. The first half of the evening consisted of,

  • Me telling Robin Hood and the Butcher – because I was telling it to an all adult audience that I know well I could play up some of the naughtier parts of the story,
  • Raph telling Little John and the Beggars – Little John’s staff ‘miraculously’ causes a one armed beggar to regain his missing limb, a blind beggar to see and a dumb beggar to talk,
  • Maddie told the story of Puss in Boots, after which there was a short discussion on why ogres are so stupid – is something to do with their size or is it genetic?
  • Mike told an updated version of Cinderella in which her godmother, (who fancies the father), lends Cinders her Vespa to go to the ball on and the prince finds his true love using the crash helmet she leaves behind. At the end of the story Cinders rode off on the Vespa with the prince riding pillion.

The second half was more of a free for all so,

  • Raph told a story about a Swiss thief being sent to steal various items from the ruler of Turkey,
  • Maddie told a story that she uses with children giving us all the chance to join in with some thigh slapping, coughing, sneezing and seeing who could give the wicked wizard the most convincing evil laugh,
  • Mike told a Japanese story about a young boy who meets Yuki-Onna (the spirit of the snow storm). This was a beautifully measured and quiet telling that had us all mesmerised,
  • I decided not to tell the second story I’d prepared and told The Tiger, The Brahmin and the Jackal instead, which got some good laughs. Interestingly, Mike had told this story on the Tuesday; his version is slightly different as the Tiger and Brahmin argue over the Tiger’s lack of gratitude after it is released from a trap. I must go back and check my source.

Next month Heads & Tales tellers will be performing twice as it is time for … (cue fanfare of trumpets) … An Epic in an Evening. We are performing a selection of stories from The Arabian Nights. I shall be telling the second part of The Fisherman and the Genie, (aka The Fish of Four Colours), and Daniel is telling the follow up story about an enchanted prince. If you want to catch a performance, or both, we will be at The Art House, Southampton on Thursday February 6th, 7:00pm for a 7:30 start & at The Elm Tree, Ringwood on Thursday 20th at 7:30.

There are a couple of things for me to look forward to coming up. I had a contact via the website the other day – a genuine one for once, I mean am I likely to want to become a bitcoin miner? And why send out six copies of the same crappy email? I thought robots were supposed to be clever! Ok rant over. The contact was from the Dorset Blind Association who have booked four Fire of London sessions, so Bartholomew will be appearing at Bournemouth, Poole, Blandford and Dorchester between March and September.

Also, I’ve had an early birthday present as Sue has bought me a ticket to the Oxford Storytelling Festival at the end of August. It will be my first storytelling festival and the line-up of tellers is amazing, definitely something to look forward to.