Taking the coast by storm

Alys Kihl, Artistic Director of the Wonderful Beasts Theatre Company on Aldeburgh beach

Alys Kihl, Artistic Director of the Wonderful Beasts Theatre Company on Aldeburgh beach

Aldeburgh’s Storm of Stories is returning to weave its magic on our imaginations. Andrew Clarke spoke to creator Alys Kihl

Alys Kihl, Artistic Director of the Wonderful Beasts Theatre Company on Aldeburgh beach

Alys Kihl, Artistic Director of the Wonderful Beasts Theatre Company on Aldeburgh beach

The Suffolk coast is bracing itself to be swept with another Storm of Stories from literary theatre company Wonderful Beast.

Alys Kihl, Artistic Director of the Wonderful Beasts Theatre Company on Aldeburgh beach

Alys Kihl, Artistic Director of the Wonderful Beasts Theatre Company on Aldeburgh beach

Following the success of the first festival 18 months ago celebrating a world-view of literature, theatre and storytelling, Aldeburgh-born theatremaker Alys Kihl is back to once again fill her home town with a sense of wonder.

Community involvement remains at the heart of the festival and this year’s event includes the commissioning of a new community opera in conjunction with Pro Corda, the music study centre at Leiston Abbey, talks with working writers about how to incorporate real people and real lives into works of fiction, life tales gets older inhabitants to share tales of Aldeburgh’s past and there are a range of cross-generational events to allow children and adults to share the joy of a life storytelling experience.

This time the storytelling event has been expanded from a four-day weekend into a ten-day festival.

“This second Storm of Stories is a much bigger affair. The first went so well and was so well received that we wanted to expand it, include more people and really get a sense that it has involved the whole town.

“I want to get more schools involved during the week rather than just have children’s events in libraries at the weekends.”

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She said that schools and cross-generational events were at the heart of what Storm of Stories and Wonderful Beast were all about.

“It’s all about inclusiveness – and it’s not just different ages. This year we have got Actability, the inclusive theatre company who utilise both disabled and non-disabled actors, coming to work with Leiston Primary School on a performance of Tree Tales – a collection of stories from Guatemala, India and Nigeria with songs, music, puppetry and storytelling.”

She said that she was delighted to be able to stage another edition of Life Tales – the event where older Aldeburgh residents regale the audience with tales of life in the town and on the sea.

“It was such a huge success last time that we have managed to persuade four more of our older residents to give us a glimpse into the past with some truly remarkable and very personal stories.

“One of the speakers spent his whole life working with horses on the land and has some marvellous tales to tell, so we are looking forward to that.

“People love that. It really does connect with people who know the area and it offers them a way to show them how their town and how our lives have changed. I love it because it gives people a platform to talk who perhaps haven’t spoken much in public before and they love it. They have so much to offer.”

The centrepiece event is a newly commissioned opera called The Six Swans, directed by Alys Kihl in partnership with Pro Corda. Composed by Richard Chew and adapted by librettist Jehane Markham.

Markham was the wife of the late actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who was one of the original supporters and directors of Wonderful Beast.

Inspired by the Grimm fairy tale featuring a silent sister who sacrifices herself to save her brothers, The Six Swans is going to be a huge community event staged at the Barn Concert Hall in Leiston.

“This will feature pupils from Aldeburgh Primary School, Alde Valley School and a large choir of local adults along with five musicians from the Aldeburgh Young Musicians course. This is in addition to our own professional actors, performers and musicians plus a tip top soloist, Robert Murray, soprano Melanie Pappenheim and dancer Anusha Subramanyam.

Born and brought up in Aldeburgh, Alys trained as a teacher in London, before eventually moving into theatre – particularly children’s theatre and working with myth and fairytale.

The more she explored the subject, the more she became convinced that classic stories shouldn’t just be aimed at children.

“The moment you say ‘Once Upon A Time…’ everybody is alert and listening, and I love that.

“What really triggered me to head off on my own was seeing Tim Supple’s Grimm’s Fairytales at The Young Vic. Although ostensibly for children they were just as exciting for the adults. You got adults jumping up out of their seats catching invisible food. It really was a road to Damascus moment – just brilliant.”

The allure of fairytales and folk stories has taken the theatre troupe from London to East Anglia, Scotland and across to India. But after a while the pull of Alys’s roots meant that she persuaded her husband the time had come to return to the Suffolk coast.

“I am an Aldeburgh girl. I grew up here and went to school here, and although I have lived in London for many years you can never escape your roots. As the years go by you feel them pulling you back.”

She said Storm of Stories is a way of giving something back to the town that inspired her imagination with tales of the sea.

Storm of Stories runs at various venues in and around Aldeburgh from March 28 to April 6.