One of the most exciting innovations in our local libraries is they have become community hubs, including storytelling for young readers, and Fables at the Kitchen Table is Tameside Council’s attempt to keep those sessions going during lockdown.
They’ve recruited experienced actor-musician Sophia Hatfield from Stute Theatre to rework three of Aesop’s famous fables delivered via an online link https://www.stutetheatre.co.uk/fables to local schools and children aged 3 to 8.
So she becomes Soph who has travelled the world collecting stories to bring back to Greater Manchester, and she kicks off with the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, which remains the most famous of the Greek’s storyteller’s tales.
Soph is an engaging performer who employs a bike helmet and a hat with floppy ears to recreate the fable, complete with lively original songs played on an accordion.
Normally this sort of performance would play in theatres with the kids screaming out their responses to the questions Soph poses about what the fable means. Here the kids and their teachers are encouraged to offer their responses via the chat facility. That gives Soph times to change the basic set as she reads the responses out, and the good news is that young people in Tameside respond in a really generous way to Soph’s clear storytelling.
Soph offers two more fables – The Ant and the Grasshopper and The North Wind and The Sun – deploying more homemade props as well as violin and a ukulele to add more original songs.
It is a credit to the clarity of the storytelling that the chat lights up as the children offer their views on whether the hard-working ant should share his winter stores with the indolent arty grasshopper. Spoiler alert….to their credit the kids think the ant should share.
The reality is that digital performances are no substitute for the real thing, but Soph and Tameside Libraries did offer both children and their parents a reminder of the power of storytelling as well as an entertaining respite from lockdown hell.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 4th March 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★