Review: Telling Stories: Truth, Lies and the Death of Compassion, Complicité
3.0Overall Score

As a writer and maker of theatre and experiences, the art of storytelling is dear to my heart. I am intrigued to hear this conversation structured around the telling of stories, even though I am admittedly not familiar with any of the participants (excepting Simon McBurney, whom I know of solely through his co-founding of Complicité).

A look at their bios reveals that they are all highly respected academics in their fields: Karen Armstrong in religious commentary; Amin Maalouf in sociology and journalism; Esther Woolfson in anthropology; and McBurney of course in the theatrical arts.

During his first contribution to the conversation, McBurney makes a point about the original stories being told around fires, which consolidates my excitement. However, the longer I listen, the less invested I am.

This is a very eloquent, civilised conversation; and that is lovely in its own right, but I feel removed from it. I am not the target audience for this conversation. The voices I hear do not speak to me. I do not hear the vernacular or accents belonging to the people from which I am most vested in hearing.

Theatre has, for a while now, been heading down the same path as opera and running the risk of alienating the audiences it needs to attract to ensure its survival. And this concern is all I can think of while I listen to these four very learned, incredibly well-spoken, people discuss the idea of storytelling and connection.

It is a very worthy conversation, but it feels to me like it is just one specific view and I find myself thirsting for more varied input. Instead of hearing McBurney and Armstrong tell me about the indigenous people they have (very thoroughly) researched and interacted with, I want a presence from indigenous people who can speak for themselves. And this opens the door into who exactly is best poised to tell which stories.

When asked by a viewer “whose stories are the most important to hear right now,” Armstong answers that she wants to hear from those who don’t have a voice, mentioning that there are people all throughout the world who do not have the platforms they deserve.

And I agree. Which, I suppose, is why I find myself somewhat disappointed by the range of the panel. If the conversation were a song, they would be singing different lyrics, but all in the same melody. I yearn for some more harmony, so to speak.

The conversation very quickly leaves the idea of storytelling behind. It becomes almost an anthropological, political, sociological commentary. Not entirely surprising, given the panel members’ various areas of expertise. Hosted conversations are difficult to facilitate, and even more so virtually, but it become less of a conversation and more a collection of mini lectures.

I find it difficult to attribute a star rating to a conversation but for posterity’s sake, I offer a respectful 3 stars; this is a conversation well worth having and the points brought up are well-put and interestingly discussed, but the topics brought up by the panel require more depth in diversity for me to be fully satiated.

Telling Stories: Truth, Lies and the Death of Compassion streamed on Complicité’s YouTube channel on 8 December and can be watched on demand online.