Award-winning author Mara Menzies highlights the links between Scotland and Africa in a powerful and important display of visual storytelling.
Scotland is a nation with a rich culture based on storytelling. Even stories based on objective fact, such as that of Mary Queen of Scots, have been told and retold with so many embellishments that it almost does not matter what actually happened.
Instead, what matters is how those stories make us feel and what they tell us about who we are as Scots. They inform our very identity.
Stories are then doubly important to Mara Menzies, the Kenyan-Scottish writer and performer at the heart of Blood and Gold.
As the creative director of Toto Tales, a performing arts company dedicated to telling African stories, she performs traditional African tales to groups across Scotland and East Africa. However, for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe she is telling a more grown-up story.
Using the medium of traditional African storytelling Menzies details how she came to terms with her identity as an Afro-Scottish woman and also with Scotland’s legacy as one of the largest profiteers from slavery.
Unsurprisingly, the slave trade does not feature in Scotland’s storytelling pantheon and Menzies had to look elsewhere for her sense of identity.
The stories of Africa’s colonisation are told with surprising humour and emotion. The humour is distinctly African, delighting in its otherness, but with a knowing wink that is unmistakably Scottish.
The international audience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe were soon happily joining in and giving her ample opportunity to flex her improv skills.
Menzies explains that the traditional Swahili phrase to ask for a story – “hadithi njoo” – means “story come”. And the story does seem to come from within her, as her method of storytelling is incredibly physical and engaging.
Her entire body is used to conjure up diverse characters and places, both far away and close to home, with purposeful movements to accompany the flowing dialogue.
The stories she tells are at once reassuringly, simple and yet frighteningly real. A bogeyman in the story becomes the hatred and racism experienced by many in Britain today as a result of unresolved colonial tensions.
But the consequences and happy endings found in storybooks don’t exist in the real world and so the best weapons we have against hatred and racism are words and stories.
Mara Menzies proves that stories have power; they have value. Blood and Gold is a fitting new chapter in Scotland’s storytelling tradition.