Spread the Word

The Voice Box, Forman St, Derby

Spoken word events traditionally major on poetry, interspersed with the odd prose piece to provide a bit of a break. “Spread the Word” turns this concept on its head by majoring on storytelling, and using poetry and music as the interludes – and very well it works too. Organised by Sophie Snell, it is compered by John Fearon, who also tells a few stories himself.

The location itself is excellent, a refurbished hall in an old building, and the open pitch roof offers excellent acoustics rendering amplification unnecessary. Modern kitchen facilities provide refreshments including chocolate cake and tables, and chairs are arrayed informally, creating as friendly and warm an atmosphere as the organisers themselves extend to audience and performers.

First up was Dave Tonge, the self styled “Yarnsmith of Norwich” who entertained us with “The Onion’s Tale”. The bearded Dave often performs in costume, but even without, convinced as an Old English troubadour telling a traditional tale. Dave had travelled from East Anglia for the evening. His warm manner and good humour set a high standard for the evening. He also excelled in his ability to get the best out of the audience in creating creaking hinge noises. My personal tip is that for an extended creak, starting from as low a musical pitch as possible is best.

At that point I was impressed that someone had come from as far as Norwich, until the next performer, Ana Lines, introduced herself as a Brazilian national! Although Portugese is Ana’s mother tongue, she speaks fluent English with a delightful Latin accent which evokes an exotic ambience to her delivery which tonight told “The Farmer’s Tale”, a parable about a treasure windfall and a gossiping wife, universal themes which transcend national boundaries.


She has an endearing presentational device of ostensibly taking the audience into her confidence, and she flatteringly declares assumed wisdom in the audience, drawing us closer in still. Full of poise, and a knowing wink, she tested the audience’s ability to creak too. . . . . .

Sophie Snell closed the first half with “The Teeny Weeny Tiny Old Woman”, the macabre story of a hairy old toe. Sophie writes stories for children and adults and she skilfully drew on strands from both in this gory tale.

Part fairy tale, part horror story and part cookery ingredient guide, she had us enthralled as she sat in classic “Jackanory” pose then aghast as she strode around to reveal the ghastly outcome. “Just a Minute” would hate her – for there was not a moment’s hesitation, repetition or deviation in her story. She has been touring her “ Seven Deadly Sins” show, I have no doubt that an extended set would be an even greater treat. And yes, she got the audience to creak too! However my appetite for the chocolate cake was somewhat diminished. . . . . . . . . . .

After the break Bryan Franks told “Noah’s Tale” with god humour and panache whilst David Brookes gave a more contemporary account of a submarine escape, both aquatic themes but from different eras.

Jim Kavanagh had joined Dave Tonge on the trek from East Anglia but his story was from Ireland, “The Land of Youth”. Drawn from the “myths and legends” tradition. This one hailed from the era of St Patrick and was beguilingly and compellingly told, in an almost confidential manner, and light irish brogue. To close the evening Emma Carlton entertained with “The Monks Tale”, an amusing story of a medieval monk and his shared adventures between two monasteries with very different mores. Flamboyant and brisk Emma shone and was the perfect curtain call for the evening.

The storytellers were interspersed with some poets, musicians and a very confident young riddle teller in the shape of Ben Snell. Not only is Sophie Snell a fine storyteller, but she is also clearly a good alchemist too, as each main performer not only had a distinct style, but also the stories themselves were quite diverse, ensuring a satisfying, stimulating and rewarding evening. “Spread the Word” returns later in the year, more details available at: http://www. flyingdonkeys. co. uk/ 09-06-11

Gary Longden

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