This week, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2020 is in full swing. Thanks to the pandemic, the Festival has had to move online, with artists gathering in virtual spaces rather than onstage at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh’s High Street, or being filmed on that stage for an online audience currently scattered across Scotland and the world.
Yet the vigour of the storytelling – on the Year of Coasts and Waters theme of voyaging and the sea – is undimmed; and no star shines brighter, among the Scottish contributors to the festival, than the performer and storyteller Andy Cannon, who – over the last 25 years – has built an internationally acclaimed career as a storyteller as theatre-maker, mainly for family audiences that include both children and grown-ups. Back in 1996, he set up Wee Stories Theatre Company, and for 16 years played a key role in writing and creating superb shows based on the world’s great myths and legends, including Labyrinth – a version of the minotaur story that had audiences across Scotland and beyond literally tying themselves in knots with giant balls of string – and Arthur, an ambitious and gorgeously funny mainstage reimagining of the Arthurian legend.
After he left Wee Stories, Andy Cannon continued to develop solo shows based on storytelling, and increasingly to pursue his interest in Scottish history, through his big Expo-commissioned show Scotland, and a series of shows known collectively as Tales Of A Grandson. Like his work with Wee Stories, Cannon’s solo work invites audiences not only to enjoy stories, but to think about storytelling itself – how we do it, why we do it, and the pure transformative magic of it, particularly in childhood. He has also, in recent years, worked closely with the leading children’s theatre company Red Bridge Arts on a series of award-winning shows including his solo show Space Ape, inspired by his memories of watching early space flights on television as a child, and the magnificent Black Beauty, a multi-layered and internationally acclaimed version of Anna Sewell’s animal rights classic, created in 2016 by Cannon and Andy Manley, with design by Shona Reppe.
In this year’s online Storytelling Festival, you can catch up with Cannon both in his Tales Of A Grandson version of the story of “wee Margaret”, Maid of Norway – the tiny granddaughter of King Alexander III who died on her way across the North Sea to be crowned queen of Scotland – and in Donald Smith’s new work-in-progress take on Dr Johnson’s famous 18th century Journey to the Hebrides, in which Cannon plays Johnson’s long-suffering chronicler, James Boswell.
In this extract, though, Cannon returns to one of his favourite shows, Is This A Dagger?, a version of the Macbeth story which was to have been touring in North America this year, before Covid intervened. Like all Cannon’s shows, it’s a piece of many layers, covering both Shakespeare’s version of the Macbeth story, and the ways in which it plays fast and loose with the true history of Macbeth’s reign; and here, he introduces that mighty yarn in a special version which reminds us that no matter where we are, or how difficult our lives this autumn, we can always be telling good stories and building new imaginative worlds – for each other, and for ourselves.
The Scottish International Storytelling Festival is online at https://www.sisf.org.uk, and runs until 31 October
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