Tradition of storytelling kept alive and kicking

01:59, Oct 17 2012

Couch Stories, Granary Festival Cafe, Sunday. Reviewed by Judith Ritchie

Sitting around in the lounge swapping yarns, where great or not-so-great moments in history are passed down through the generations, has definitely been a New Zealand tradition. Some would say a lost tradition. Lost or not, Ro Cambridge and Joanne Firestone have recreated this tradition in their second Arts Festival "true stories told live" series, with great success.

The Granary at Founders provided the "lounge", while a well-lit stage provided the "couch" where 13 Nelsonians shared some slices of life, based loosely around travels at home or abroad.

Some great storytelling ensued, intimate and moving stories, funny and just plain ridiculous, to outright raunchy; each individual sharing a part of themselves as well as a yarn.

Daniel Allen, usually on stage in character, was this time himself, recalling his dream of sand surfing in the exotic city of Florianopolis, in Brazil, dashed by wintery rain, and how a huge mushroom helped repair his fraught relationship with partner Lisa. Next was musician Margaret Jackson's story of a concert given in Grenada, Spain. It was very moving to imagine the moment of "duende", when a rowdy crowd melted into an enraptured audience, the soul of the music linking each by the heart.

There was no time to get teary though, as we were tossed back into the real world by Anna and Ernie's honeymoon story of sleeping in a backpackers that doubled as a pig slaughterhouse in China, then ex-Olympian Paul Jennings' overseas minibreak cycling among the beer-swilling crowds in Belgium, followed by a sweet tale of time spent in England through the eyes of then 5-year-old Dan Kendrick. The first half of the show finished with Phillippa Foes-Lamb's fast-paced tale of misadventure while trying to catch the train out of Paris, being driven up dead ends, taking the wrong off-ramp while the driver was map-reading at the same time. They made it, by the way. Just.


After a break we were warned by Teresa O'Connor that dog lovers should leave the room or block their ears. No-one left, and I think those who blocked their ears soon became all ears as O'Connor had the audience in stitches regaling a tale of deception that came back to bite her, well almost. While staying with her friend in a backpackers in southern Naples, they created new personas, O'Connor posing as a vet, and happily revelling in the status until, as luck would have it, Rosa the hostel dog, whom she suspected had rabies, was struck by a car and she, with almighty hangover, was summoned to administer her veterinary services. I won't tell all as O'Connor is the consummate storyteller - I will let her finish it some day when you happen to bump into her.

It takes a lot of grit to follow that act, and bravo to Travis Mills, no ordinary year 13 student at Waimea College. He touched each of us with his maturity and empathy, while recalling his time at a Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. Sophie Ricketts was equally engaging with her heartfelt story of living in West Africa as an 8-year-old, which changed her relationship with her 11-year-old brother into one of friendship.

Then we were thrown into the front seat with Matt Budd, on his road trip with best mate Fuzz, in the babe-magnet Mark III Cortina, doing laps down the main street of every town between Invercargill and Christchurch, then wreaking havoc with battery acid on a driveway before backing into a fence while making a quick getaway.

Donna Ryan settled us down again with a simple but moving tale about her mother's journey as a war bride in 1946, to a husband serving in England.

Local poet Cliff Fell finished the evening well and truly, the crowd left a tad uncomfortable gauging from the body language and exchanged looks. It started off as a tale of misfortune when he was robbed in Bombay, then somehow became a poem written in Florence, which quickly became a revealing account of his sexual exploits with wife Pam on the steps of the Casa di Dante. Not quite the sort of tale you'd write about on a postcard, but then again, as we heard from these speakers, when travelling, each to their own.