On a windy and very cold Sunday afternoon, I clicked my thousandth Zoom link of the last year and wondered what to expect from The Stove. It’s described as “a virtual meeting place where participants share memories and stories over dinner”. I must admit to being a little apprehensive, but I needn’t have been.
Emma Brand leads the session. Unfortunately one participant’s internet fails them (a good internet connection is a must for this show!), so three strangers find themselves together on Zoom. Emma soon puts us at ease, telling a story about her grandfather helping her with maths by teaching her how to play blackjack. We then take it in turns to share memories and stories inspired by the previous contributor’s story, quickly coming to feel like we know each other a bit better.
Following these introductions, Emma launches us on our journey together. We are taken on a snowy walk through a deserted street. Our host asks me what I see through a window, and asks the other participant what she smells coming from a kitchen. There’s something so comforting about being told a story, whilst the childlike joy of being asked to expand on details enhances the experience. Emma builds up the atmosphere throughout using the sound effects of crunching snow, cold winds and crackling fires. Her background image changes to suit the location she is describing, and her tone is always warm and welcoming.
Our journey leads us to a cabin. It is there that we are asked to get our meals, which we’re advised to have ready in advance. Mine was the lockdown classic, a banana loaf, accompanied by a big cup of tea, but I was quite jealous of Emma’s bangers and mash situation. I would recommend getting yourself more organised than I was, and preparing a comforting meal in advance.
Warming ourselves by the crackle of a fire, we talk about the tales we love and set about creating our own. Our narrative ends up set in New York, the main character being Doris with green hair, who is afraid of cracks in the pavement. Once these crucial details are established, we write the story, contributing a sentence each. This is a lot of fun; a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Emma is brilliant at accepting all ideas, no matter how unusual or reflective of existing tales (I’m the guilty party here!). It definitely feels like there are no wrong answers, and this comfortable environment encourages imaginative thought.
As Emma closed the call, I felt a warm feeling come over me, and I reflected on how wonderful it is to meet strangers and create something together. I would be interested to know what the experience is like with more participants; but while this would mean there are more ideas contributed, it might have felt more intimidating than with our small group. It’s really special that every performance will result in a completely different story. This is a unique way to spend an hour, and it’s probably as immersive as theatre can be over a Zoom call. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend having some mashed potato on standby and settling into a comfy spot to embrace the magic of storytelling at The Stove.
Created by: Emma Brand
The Stove is playing as part of Living Record Festival. Shows almost daily, and must be booked in advance. Full details on the website below.