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Beeston Tales

15 December 15 words: Matt Turpin
We went to the White Lion in Beeston for a storytelling night
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Clare Muireann Murphy, guest storyteller at Beeston Tales


You can’t really strip down an art form much further than Spoken Word. The premise is so basic as to be terrifying: one person, telling a story to lots of people. No props, no music, no pyrotechnics. It’s as raw as you can get. Stand-up comedy has the artillery of a well-formed convention between audience and performer. In a bit of lazy note-taking before the gig, I write down ‘If stand-up comedy is rock and roll, then story-telling is folk music’. There is a ring of truth to this – there is a cosiness to the event (more than one member of the audience has bought along their knitting) – but, as proved on the night, there is so much more to it than that.

First, the venue. The White Lion in Beeston is one of those expansive fifties town pubs which usually have a large function room. They’re a dying species, all too easily painted orange and turned into a tacky grill restaurant; or, with the aid of a few square metres of MDF, cobbled into student flats or yuppie boxes. The White Lion has escaped such a fate, instead being taken over by Sergio, a young Portuguese guy with a taste for culture. During his brief tenure the pub has doubled up as an art gallery, a cinema, a music venue, a samba drumming school, even a collection point for donations to the refugee crisis.

It’s therefore no surprise that the pub also hosts the Beeston Storytellers. Led by Mike Payton, who built his craft when travelling around Mexico; and the exuberant Tim Ralphs, they’ve steadily built an audience and a collective of wildly diverse fellow storytellers. Tonight is a full house, as the last few have been. Now approaching its first anniversary, it’s thriving.

Unfortunately, Mike has laryngitis – the most heinous illness to beset a story-teller – so has to sit out the performance. Not a worry: the first half doesn’t struggle to fill his boots. A series of tellers perform brief tales, often with simple plots.

The magic is in the telling. We all know someone down the pub who can weave an anecdote to a rapt crowd – this is exactly that, but turned up to eleven.

So a simple tale – a transposition of the Fools of Gotham fable transposed onto Beeston – is told luxuriantly, the beat and cadence of the teller’s lines giving prose poetry. There is a hypnotic feel to the tales: you’re back round that prehistoric campfire again, rapt.

The first half finishes with a musical interlude from a sweet-voiced young German songwriter Ronja Breitkopf, before glasses are recharged and the second half kicks off.

From the moment Claire Muirreann Murphy takes the stage, you know this is something special. Bringing her much touted show INISFÁIL - Island of Destiny to Beeston, she oozes charm from the off, slipping the odd bit of mellifluous Irish Gaelic into her introduction. She then heads off into the stories, and even the most attention-deficit individual would be held silent by it.

The stories she tells –weaves – are ancient ones of Ireland. This isn’t your cheesy faux-Irish, Leprechaun –hatted, shamrock-in-your-Guinness-froth whimsy; but tales that are in turn gory, exciting, and philosophic.  Her only prop is a scarf,  that she expertly uses as a dress, a sword, clouds and more. There is laughter, there are gasps, there is wild applause when she finishes with a flourish and the spell breaks.

Nottingham has just been confirmed as a UNESCO City of Literature: recognition that we are rather ace with words. For a real distillation of this, get yourself down Beeston Storytellers, and guarantee yourself a Happy Ever After.

Mike Payton and Tim Ralphs regularly host Beeston Tales at The White Lion in Beeston.

Mike Payton's website

Tim Ralph's website

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