CROWDS flocked to Settle at the weekend to attend the biggest ever Settle Stories Festival.

“It was our busiest festival ever, on every level,” said Charles Tyrer, communications manager for Settle Stories. “We had more sold out shows than ever before. It really exceeded our expectations.

Shows ranged from the “laugh out loud” ones like the Queen and the Jester to the more adult Last Resort, where participants could enjoy a rum cocktail while putting their feet in a bucket of sand.

“The festival had a lot of variety and contrast, so many people had different experiences,” said Charles.

“We created a festival that was much more fringy, like a mini Edinburgh Fringe. We wanted to make it fun for everybody.”

But the biggest attraction, literally, was the 50-foot inflatable whale in Settle Market Place.

“The whale was a triumph,” said Sita Brand, director of Settle Stories. “Little children absolutely loved it and were wide-eyed with wonder,” she said: “It’s not every day you see a 50-foot whale in Settle Market Place.

“It was a really, really excellent weekend. One of the focuses of this festival was to make people think and reflect, and I believe we accomplished that.”

The theme of the festival was technology, and Friday night’s opening production, A Machine They’re Secretly Building by Proto-type Theatre, featured plenty of it, writes Craven Herald reporter Daryl Ames, who was on hand to review the show at Settle Victoria Hall.

A Machine They’re Secretly Building

This piece of theatre is unlike any other, with a clever yet foreboding presentation on how the world of surveillance affects our lives.

Even before the performance begins, the performers Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees, create an unsettled atmosphere by staring into the audience whilst wearing red balaclavas.

This sets the tone for an entertaining evening as the two women, in a simplistic newsreader style, speed through the history of government surveillance from 1943 wartime London to the present day.

Their sombre way of referring to life-changing events through spoken word is augmented by a video camera and big screen which highlights their message with phrases like ‘Even if you’re doing nothing wrong you’re being watched and recorded’.

They talk about turning points in surveillance technology, such as the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1991, and how the 9/11 bombings in New York led to the passing of laws like the Patriot Act, which made it easier for the government to monitor communications.

Although the show is edgy, Baynton and Lees use ironic humour to remind the audience that it is done “to keep you safe”.

They close by painting a picture of a future similar to the Terminator films when the ‘machine’ will say “thanks for switching me on, I’ll take it from here.”

Gill O’Donnell also reviewed several shows on Saturday and Sunday.

A Favourite Doll

I was never much of a one for dollies as little girl, but I did have a teddy bear, from whom I was totally inseparable. So it was a real joy to go to this workshop and immortalise the story of my teddy bear and I and let the world know how much she meant to me.

The real pleasure in sessions such as this is the way in which the artist is able to put people at ease to get them to share the stories which matter to them and then re-tell and record them for others to share.

Settle Stories Festival is all about the universality of shared stories and experiences and it is wonderful to realise that we as individuals have so much in common.

For those who weren’t able to join in this workshop there will be an opportunity to hear some of the stories at the Listening Gallery later in the year.

On the Wings of Butterflies

Born in Brazil, Ana Maria Lines is a captivating storyteller and her tales in this project cover a vast array of venues from Mexican jungles through to Japan and eventually to Britain.

The theme which linked the tales was the travels of a butterfly which acted as a guide across the continents and whose crystal wings revealed the truth hidden within each tale.

Not only is her voice engaging and melodic, bursting into unexpected song from time to time, but her movements are also controlled and balletic - with tiny flicks of her hand creating the butterfly wings as it travels.

She is also that rare being, who is capable of doing a number of things at once. Not only was she able to remember a complex story in detail and re-enact it, she did it while folding a sheet of paper into an elegant origami butterfly without once looking down to see what her hands were doing!

Like many other storytellers she involved her audience in the story by getting them to provide background susurration for the wind in the trees and subdued murmuring for the beating of a million butterfly wings.

The Queen and the Jester

This was a perfect family performance with something to please everyone regardless of age.

The storyline is deceptively simple with a love-lorn queen and a jester whose task is to try to cheer her up. However, unlike most stories of this kind it doesn’t have a predictable happy ending and in fact, it doesn’t really have an ending at all.

In between a story which began at the end and ended at the beginning there were all kinds of comedy and silliness along with a few hidden truths and a couple of digs at modern life.

Consequently the queen (Ursula Holden-Gill) who laughs at someone who is different to both herself and companions finds out rather painfully what it is like to be on the receiving end of such laughter and finds that she laughs until she is blue in the face - quite literally!

The jester (Keith Donnelly) meanwhile was the real show stealer with antics, normally reserved only for pantomimes, which led to a kind of mass insanity and had all ages dancing.

It was a particularly odd show as it regularly inverted expectations, but had a sense and integrity of its own and clearly was a huge hit with the audience of adults and children alike.

Toast and Marmalade

Sunday morning breakfast will never quite be the same again after sharing it with Alim Kamara. A man with more snap, crackle and pop than a bowl of Rice Krispies, he brought a sunshine start to Sunday morning with his lively tales and engaging manner.

Forget interactive technology, this was full on audience engagement with people not only joining in with his storytelling but also opening up and telling their own stories. Alim was a relaxed and encouraging host, sharing his own tales but equally appreciative of the tales told by others.

Not surprisingly, in the light of some of the tales told, one of the key messages in Alim’s final story was about the need to be willing to take time out from our preoccupations and spend time with those we love and to be willing to share time and interests with them.

This event was a perfect example of that and while technology can bring us closer together, there is no substitute for actually being in a room with another person and sharing a meal and a chance to talk.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I’m rarely left lost for words, but I am in total awe of Ursula Holden-Gill.

This was a real tour de force, an hour long retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream complete with music, dance, a variety of mood and accent and with each character clearly delineated and all by one amazing, shape-shifting woman.

Little wonder that the audience, of all ages, was held totally enchanted by this captivating performer. The feat of memory alone is staggering as not only is there the sheer volume of text to consider and the complexity of the story, on top of this there is the layer of practicality of creating ways of differentiating the characters and ensuring that each time the right character strikes the right pose and speaks with the right accent.

This was entertaining on so many levels. Not only was it a marvellous telling of a great story but it was a perfect example of how to introduce Shakespeare to children.