Story Slam Live encourages the development of short story writing, allocating a brief five minute slot for each writer to perform a piece of work based on a changing theme. Jo Donovan founded this wonderful creative space and it’s legacy led to its most recent slam in the much sought-after Southbank Centre. The three judges, all with artistic and literature-soaked backgrounds, were just as hungry to hear these tales of emancipation as the audience.
This week’s theme was “freedom”; which the writers inevitably twisted, ripped and subverted to suit their invariably authentic prose. And prose it mostly was, but many of the short stories emulated a Woolf-ian lyrical, poetic meter. At points, the evening felt magical; a small room buried in the Spirit Level of such an iconic building held the insights, memories and emotion of people as yet unfamiliar, the atmosphere was absorbed through the tingling synapses of an anticipatory audience.
Jacqueline started the evening with her darker take on the fairy-tale of Prince Charming. Set in modern day, the supposed “princess” is subjected to prostitution, cruelty and abuse from her male counterpart. With graphic, fist-clenchingly painful descriptions of a woman controlled by fear, Jacqueline transported the audience into an uncomfortable arena marred by male dominance and overarching authority. She was followed closely by Rob Duffy, who created an impeccable dichotomy between physical and mental entrapment; it was an engaging and tension-filled performance. However, there was something missing from the aforementioned pieces, perhaps the former felt a little too raw, the latter a little too intentionally cunning and calculated.
Much like poetry and music, when performing a short story you put your soul on the line; you allow strangers to glimpse the way your imagination spirals, non-conformingly perhaps to idealised morality or general Political understanding. One such piece written and performed by Irena Dragos was incredibly compelling; a piece about the often indistinct notions of a Public and a Private life, Dragos portrays an overarching Political sphere filtering into the mind of a young and innocent ten year old girl during the Romanian Revolution. Dragos eloquently, tentatively captured the child’s sometimes selective memory; “the smell of snow” “the sweet scent of victory”, her fractious relationship with a sibling backlit by an increasingly revolutionary political arena, the family settling in bed to watch the news unfold about a new Romania. The ten year old’s naivety and acceptance of political upheaval as part of her fairly comfortable family life is balanced perfectly by the writer; her piece is extremely affecting and effective.
The winner’s story was beautifully performed, I’m fairly sure I saw a few of the judges tear up like the artistic sponges they are. However Dean Stalham’s piece “Danny Rose” in all its gruff, gruesome lovability was certainly a story to be shared and shared again. Witty and tragic, Stalham tells the tale of a man slipping into his drug-addled nadir, which in turn is his salvation; for him prison is freedom. As the most subversive of the “freedom” theme, Danny Rose’s account sheds light on a base human existence in which a Gregg’s sausage roll and a cup of tomato soup is a man’s final luxury before incarceration. The story is, possibly unbelievably, transcendental.
Whilst we were so dependent on word of mouth for the spread of news in the 16th century; reliant on ballads such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales spoken in towns for those to soak up culture and literature aurally rather than visually, now we are perhaps a little too introvert with literature. Seamus Heaney always believed a poem should be performed. Perhaps stories should be too. Story Slam Live is a captivating event. Anyone can enter and read, anyone can win the prize of a writing mentoring session. It’s a fantastic opportunity for those wanting to test out new writing and for those who just love a story.