6 October 2019
Review by Bessie Yuill
Walking into the Gala Studio for Curious Arts’ Spectacular Drag Storytime was like entering a family-friendly retreat from the world. The set itself was a cosy facsimile of a colourful room, with children’s books arranged on the shelves. The character “Ben” was already sat amongst the cushions on the floor, asking questions to put the children at ease. When the actual performance began, they were joined by “Grandad”, complete with a grey moustache, who kicked off the storytelling. Starting with the timeless classic, Elmer, the stories explored the struggles to fit into a monochrome landscape when all you can do is stand out – colourfully. The performers dealt well with restless or noisy kids, encouraging interactions and working their interjections into the show. The shyer children also ended up moving to the front after a while, drawn in by the inventive props. During the book And Tango Makes Three, Ben handled two penguin puppets, as well as a baby penguin and a blue scarf, representing water. The scarf rippled and flew over the delighted children’s heads. The third and final book – From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea – laid out a tale of not fitting easily into categories of gender, or even species. The wings, feathers and sparkles described in the story became a golden cloak in Ben’s recreation, and there was a collective gasp as the cloak was put on. This reading also ended with Ben performing a heart-warming song with the audience all joining in.
All the jokes were well calibrated for children, who responded enthusiastically to the storytellers’ expressive faces and various comic voices. The entire event managed held everyone’s attention with expert charisma, while delivering a heartfelt message about feeling different. Its success can be conveyed in one particularly sweet anecdote. During post-show arts and crafts, one little audience member was still so charmed that he took the mask he had made to one of the performers as a gift. Seeing him get a hug in return brought home what the point of these storytelling shows are: not just distracting the kids for a couple of hours but leaving them with a real affection for books and what they can teach us.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.