In a nutshell
‘A story should be told eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart.” So runs the Scottish travellers’ proverb that inspires this cultural centre dedicated to the telling of tales and the sharing of stories. The main draw is its programme of spoken-word performances, most of which take place in its 100-seat basement theatre. The storytelling doesn’t just happen on stage, though. The ground floor has a large, airy room used for exhibitions, workshops and open-mic events, as well as a monthly story session for tots (Tiny Tales for one- to three-year-olds). Pre-show, my kids had a fun 20-minutes opening lots of wee doors and peering through lots of wee windows that form part of the room’s interactive story wall.
Animal names in Scots (one of the three official languages in Scotland) sound as though they were invented just for enlivening stories. My favourites include forty-fittit Janet (centipede), spinnie jenny (daddy-longlegs) and pis(h)-minnie (ant).
Best thing about it
The live performances. We caught the 4pm showing of The Man Who Planted Trees (on until 26 August). An adaptation of the 1953 allegorical work of French writer Jean Giono, the tale centres on the efforts of a local shepherd to reforest a windswept corner of Provence. Presented as a comedian/narrator double act, the hour-long play exemplified performative storytelling at its best: poignant, honest and packed with giggles. Check the events listing for other upcoming kids’ shows. The centre will also host the Scottish International Storytelling Festival (18-31 October)
What about lunch?
There’s a cafe on the ground floor with a lengthy list of sandwiches, panini, filled croissants and salads. Soups and lunchtime specials (£7.50) change on a daily basis. Get there before 12.30pm and you can try The Storyteller’s Breakfast (£10.50), which adds lorne sausages (they’re square), a tattie scone and a slice of black haggis to a regulation fry-up. A children’s no-haggis version is also available (£8.50).
Exit through the gift shop?
No gift shop! Better than that, the centre boasts an independent bookshop, which specialises in fables, myths and folk stories. Many are classics passed down from generation to generation, although contemporary material also abounds. Kids’ books are plentiful. Contemporary highlights include Lari Don’s Serpents and Werewolves and Janis Mackay’s The Selkie Girl. Also worth a look is Animals, Beasties and Monsters of Scotland by Lea Taylor, which forms part of History Press’s superb compilation of regional Scottish folk stories. For budding linguists, there are Scots’ versions of Harry Potter, as well as Roald Dahl’s The Twits (“Eejits”).
The centre is in the middle of Edinburgh’s Old Town, at the eastern end of the Royal Mile. It’s a five-minute walk from Waverley railway station. Driving in the city centre is to be avoided; the nearest bus stops are on the High Street and North Bridge. For more information visit Lothian Buses.
Value for money?
Reasonable. Entry to the ground-floor space is free, although all the theatre performances are ticketed. Prices for shows vary, with the average around £8 for adults and £6 for children. Café Voices, the centre’s monthly storytelling night, is £5.
10am-6pm Monday-Saturday; Sunday (July and August only). Last entry: 5.30pm.
10/10. This joyful, noisy, energy-filled space brims with a love of live storytelling and its power to make us think and imagine. My two boys (10 and 11) loved every minute, giving it an 11/10 – suggesting an incipient appreciation for the magical, reality-bending properties of great storytelling.
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