Show Must Go On!

So we have been having a bit of a hard time behind the scenes. Our main performer Isla Menzies has unfortunately been struggling with sciatica and trying hard to make it work but when an osteopath confirmed a slipped disc, it was confirmed that there was no way she could continue without risk of permanent injury. Now, in Scotland there is a SEVERE shortage of performers of African heritage and we also like to work with sensational artists so found ourselves in a bit of a pickle.

In fact, we had 2 choices, either cancel the show (not a great option) or have Mara Menzies step in. Normally this would have been absolutely fine, BUT Mara expects to pop  a baby in the next few weeks so it had to be considered. After a minute or 2 the decision was made. In the true spirit of Nzinga, (a proud, no nonsense, give it everything woman)  we would stop at nothing to ensure her amazing story would be heard!

So, when you come to see the show, be prepared for something a little more magical than you might otherwise expect. Reconsider everything you ever thought about women and prepare to be blown away by this amazing story!

And don’t worry! Isla is ensuring that a little piece of her remains in the show by directing certain elements where she truly captures both the vulnerability and deep rooted anger of this phenomenal woman.


What do Parents look for in Childrens Theatre?

Elaine from the Scottish Storytelling Centre emailed me this review after our brilliant 1st performance of the Fringe today and it has inspired this blog…

“I just wanted to give you some feedback that we received about your show today. It was from a mum with two young girls, and she specifically came and asked us for a feedback form so she could let us know how much they loved the show. She wrote, “ Perfectly pitched for a 2 and 4 year old. Good mix of themes, music and dance (and puppetry) which were not too long before moving on to the next piece to keep you ones engaged. Loved the audience participation and improvisation. Will need to make some Starbird hats when we get home!” She also gave the show 10+ out of 10.

 I actually saw this family leaving the show as I arrived at work this morning and the children were so delighted and telling their mum how “beautiful” and “amazing” the show was.”

 When Starbird first made herself known in the deep recesses of the mind, she threw all sorts of crazy ideas my way and there is always terrific fun and anxiety at those first moments. Stories from storytellers evolve constantly and it’s great to know that you have the possibility of shifting and changing the flow of the story. Pure entertainment is great, puppets and rude noises and bogies will always guarantee a laugh. But for me…great childrens theatre is not always easy to get right! You have to please not only the children, but the parents too. Many times I have sat through a show wishing I was elsewhere (even though my daughter loved it!)

When putting a show together these are my top things to consider:

  • Think of your audience – it will include children of varying ages, parents, grandparents, reviewers and theatre goers – and every single one of them must be catered for!
  • Have a great story! A story well told will linger long after you’ve gone home and made dinner and gone to bed. A great story will come back to you years after you’ve heard it!
  • What are your key objectives: is it to purely entertain? inform? How will this be done? – interaction, puppets etc…
  • Culture – because I am passionate about Africa, these all have to be identifiably African. Children in Scotland might not notice…now! But they will be exposed to fabrics and designs very different to what they are normally used to… One of Picasso’s greatest influences were the African masks he saw in a museum in Paris! For other shows it might not be an African influence but anything to help place the audience in that world, be it imaginary or real!
  • Imagination – Allow for plenty. it does not always have to be told. Simply feed a suggestion and imagination takes care of the rest. However it is always great for the audience to be able to share their thoughts immediately.
  • Enlist the help of children in the creation of the story. Their free minds will bring to life all kinds of possibilities.

Starbird is a show that we at Toto Tales are particularly proud of. It does have a slightly frightening moment for very young children but goodness always prevails does it not? Fluffy sweetness does not always make it easy for tinies to distinguish good from bad and so overcoming this truly awful situation makes the audience/participants feel a greater pride in helping to right the wrong!

The wee cuddles close to mum or dad are soon replaced by an eagerness to get involved. The beauty of the story is that the family or group of people will have a beautiful shared experience and by talking bout it later they will get an insight into what the other saw. The children will remember things the grown ups missed and they will have interpreted things differently and vice versa. Come and join us with Starbird! Tickets here:

Would love to hear what other shows have grabbed your imaginations? Or what other elements you think re important for childrens theatre.

Let us know here!!!

Toto love





10 things you didn’t know about David Livingstone

So our show is on for 2 weeks in the Fringe exploring the life of Scotland’s greatest explorer but… Who was David Livingstone? He was – explorer, writer, doctor, missionary and, most of all, an ardent anti-slavery campaigner, a legacy that has made Scotland and the entire world celebrate the bicentenary of his birth. But who was the man behind the legend? And what triggered his revolutionary ideas about slavery?

Here some 10 fabulous facts for you

  1. He was the first recorded European to see Mosi oa Tunya (Victoria Falls)
  2. He was one of the first Westerners to make the MEGA journey across Africa.
  3. He survived malaria, dysentery, sleeping sickness and other common diseases, concocting a malaria cure along the way!
  4. He became great friends with local tribal chiefs, and spoke several African languages fluently
  5. He was a pretty terrible missionary, with only 1 convert
  6. He was an ardent advocate of the abolition of slavery.
  7. He believed that fair trade was the only thing able to replace and stop the slave-trade.
  8.  He wasn’t discouraged by the negative press for the failure of the Zambezi expedition and carried on regardless
  9. His heart is buried in Africa, under a Mvula tree, but his remains are buried at Westminster Abbey,

10. He brought back HUGE collections of botanic, ecological, geological and ethnographic material, allowing large regions to be mapped,








A bit of background for you!

EARLY DAYS: His family was from Blantyre and was a pretty humble one. Little David was the 2nd of 7 children and had to start earning a living from the tender age of 10. Life was very tough with a 12-14 hour long working day. But David was desperate to learn. He consumed books by other explorers, theological books, travel and missionary stories by his father and these certainly provided a trigger for David’s future choices. He found the best way to combine his passion for science and his strong religious beliefs by studying medicine at college.

AFRICA: David Livingstone first went to Africa as a missionary, at the age of 27. This obviously wasn’t where his heart lay as over the 30 years he spent on the continent, he only made one convert. He must have covered around 50.000 km, mostly by foot.

He became acutely aware of the cruelty inflicted on humans as a result of the slave trade and began to see his role of opening up the interior to Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation. His expeditions took him and his teams deeply into northern, southern and central Africa, places like modern days Zambia and Nile river being forever associated with his name.

Livingstone’s amazing learning ability helped him to learn the local language. His liberal, respectful , (almost equal) attitude to and relationships with African people was unlike other missionaries and explorers of that time.

Despite failing as  a missionary, he maintained an exceptionally strong Christianity faith until his death, it’s morals guiding his behaviour and attitudes.

FRIEND AND FAMILY: Livingstone was not an easy man and his closest friendships were formed with the African people he lived and worked alongside. His European colleagues often abandoned him (some died and others left accusing him of being insane) as he had no regard for their safety and was extremely stubborn.

He brought his family up in very rural situations drawing criticism from his peers.

VIC FALLS: Chief Sekeletu helped to finance the Zambezi expedition leading to the

renaming of the extraordinary Mosi oa Tunya. (Victoria Falls). For Britain the mission was considered a failure and made future fund raising very hard. Still, due to his collaboration with the Royal Geographical Society of London new funds were granted and Livingstone continued to explore Africa.

LATER YEARS: In the last few years of his life, he lost contact with the outside world for nearly 6 years, until a party of East Africans brought American journalist Stanley Morton to him. He was considered lost but had simply continued on his dogged mission to explore, writing madly on any scrap of paper he could find. The medicines, supplies of food, writing materials, etc that Stanley brought, enabled Livingstone a reprieve from his extremely difficult situation but he refused to return with Stanley, preferring to continue searching for a magic hill, which, he believed to be the source of 4 rivers.

DEATH: Livingstone died in Africa, in a position of prayer. Susi and Chuma, 2 of his African followers, buried his heart under a Mvula tree near the spot where he died and wishing his spirit to rest in peace, they returned his body to the land of his birth. carrying him from the heart of Africa to the East African Coast, where his body was sent to Britain. This trip was a true testament to their loyalty and humanity travelling 1500 miles, risking disease, capture and more over 8 months and 12 people lost their lives.

To find out more, come and see us in August where we hear his story from the perspective of his African friends.


Part of the David Livingstone 200 celebration

Fringe Performances: Edinburgh Fringe 2013, National Library of Scotland, 7-21 Aug, 4pm

Book tickets here  :



David Livingstone show looms!

‘I Knew A Man Called Livingstone’ -

The story of Scotland’s great explorer from the perspective of his African friends!

It’s been  long time coming but this Saturday 16th March, we are performing our first show of David Livingstone! It’s on at the Scottish Storytelling Centre at 2pm and we’d love to see you there!

What’s it about? Well, I must confess I didn’t know much about Livingstone at the beginning of last year but his story is such a fascinating one that spans so many areas of interest – medicine, religion, geography, culture, etc that it is difficult to know where to even begin his story! Born into a working class family who worked in the Blantyre cloth mills, between work, he’d find time to read and was inspired by previous Scottish explorers. He went to study after work (and he was just a young boy) then ended up convincing his father that actually medicine wasn’t such a terrible thing and it wouldn’t interfere in his faith. He ended up as a missionary in Southern Africa and that’s when he found his hearts true desire….to travel and explore.


We’ve got the FANTASTIC Isla Menzies and Ncuti Gatwa starring and it’s been directed by Annie George.

Playing different characters, the 2 performers unfold what made Livingstone so different to the other explorers/missionaries of his time. We meet people such as the wonderful princess Manenko who stood up to Livingstone. We also meet Chief Sechele, his only convert, the Arab traders to whom Livingstone was often indebted, Susi and Chuma his loyal converts who carried his body from the village of Ilala to the coast where it as sent to England!

This journey was extraordinary! 1500 miles, 8 months, 80 people, 12 of whom died en route in order for the doctors body to follow tradition and be returned to the land of his ancestors.

Truly remarkable! Gets you thinking about what people may possibly do for you when your time is up! Livingstone was not an easy man but he treated people with kindness and respect most of the time, but could often lose his temper. He was not a leader of men and was often criticised for his dangerous attitude to the expedition! But there was something special about him. If you think you know what drove Livingstone, then get in touch and let us know!

Toto x


We off on Tour!!!!

We are excited to be off on tour with the wonderful Mull Theatre. Woohoo!!!!! Come March and April, we shall be regaling audiences with our brand new Starbird production. We are collaborating with Mull and Alasdair McCrone will be directing it. Very, very exciting!!! Have a look at the new eblink for a wee preview as it will be on at the Fringe too. Enjoy!!! x

Where do we find stories?

So, where are the hunting grounds for some ripe, juicy stories huh! Well, over the years I’ve been inspired by a mountain of different things. Sometimes, a wee storytelling session develops into an idea that will not go away!

This Saturday 15th December, The Igbo Society of Glasgow is meeting, and I will be telling stories. I LOVE this, because it is so important for people living away from the countries of origin to still maintain links with that cultural heritage. For their children to be exposed to the language, other children who share their heritage, see their parents communicating and sharing memories, even if it’s a collective one, passed down from grandparents.

Now because the audience will be mainly of Igbo descent, I feel it’s important that I make a genuine effort to embrace that culture, despite it being very different from my own. That means asking Igbo friends  if they know anyone with stories or folktales or even just name of people and the significance so you can develop a story that will appeal to the Igbo culture and create that familiarity that can make a story from ‘home’ unite people who live so far away. The language, the dress, the expressions that take place all lend to escaping this life and returning to somewhere beautiful where memories of family and friends come flooding back. Also for me, it means that for a while you delve into another world. Just see some of the incredible hairstyles featured in these pics. Just beautiful! Also puts certain things into context when you go beyond the story and find an opportunity to really get into another persons shoes.

I found this lovely website with a host of lovely stories from the Igbo tradition. So, I can use this fountain of knowledge to build up the stories and transform them in a live storytelling session. Getting stories first hand from a person enables you to get a feel for the language. How to round your lips and properly pronounce the names, to really get your head around the rhythm of a phrase. How to put in an ‘ah ah’ at the right place, mimicking their cultural norms. If it works brilliant, if not then at least some hilarity will be provided by someone trying out a new culture.

Hey, we live and learn. Who knows? Sometimes, that random story you heard a few years ago could one day turn into a beautiful production, lovingly retold for generations to come. Have a look at that site and let me know which story was your favourite.

Toto love


The mad month of stories!

October……always mad for the Storyteller!

Just a quick one here to let you know what’s been happening! It started off all nice and innocent in September with the post Summer craziness and normally there’s a lull where things wind down before revving up again to hit the high notes in October but for some reason this year has been busier than normal!

Some of the other storytellers out there may agree that this is a famine and feast type of work where some months will pay for others.

Well this has been already and still is packed with stuff! First up is the brilliant Glasgow Inspiration Festival who are just brilliant at getting us into schools and communities that wouldn’t otherwise get to see what we do so it’s always lovely to do things with them. We showed Starbird in 3 venues where about 500 tinies came to meet Starbird and tried desperately to show the little chick puppets where their mother lay trapped in the nest! Their enthusiasm showed no bounds that they were often guided up onto the stage to take part. Strategic ploy to avoid stage invasion!!!

  Here is a picture taken by stv local of us with 2 of the audience. They were just delightful! Those wings get me every time.

I am so excited by this story and know that it will grow and grow and becoem better and stronger.

Well, we are also showing The Baobab Tree at Glasgow City Halls on the 20th October at 10.30am and 3pm as part of the Commonwealth Family Day! We will be working with Yamil, an amazing dancer from Cuba who will be joing me and Stu, Andy, Pete and Marion. very exciting!


Something I am very happy about is the Settle Storytelling Festival which I have just taken part in, and is the first South of the Border festival I’ve been invited to so am delighted I must say! Sita Brand who runs it is so passionate about it and I guesss that’s where the best things happen. Settle itself is such a lovely little village surrounded by other lovely places. I did some workshops with 2 schools there (see the link here for the photo and article in local paper)

Then Bedtime Tales was just wonderful with all the little tinies. The photographer Tony Crossland took some pics of the session and I love these… The faces on those kids is what makes itso special. They are absolutely lost in a world far away from the Settle Playbarn!

Here’s a challenge for you? Can you guess which story these kids are listening to? Comment to this post and let us know your thoughts.

Toto love




A hectic, wonderful summer of festivals and no rain!

It’s been ages since I wrote a piece but it’s been so ridiculously, wonderfully busy that I have literally not had a chance. Those few magical moments of quiet were spent being…well…quiet! The rest of the time was pure energy and utter exhaustion and walking and sunshine and no wellies all August! Truly blessed! Had an amazing time in July travelling round Sri Lanka, visiting the stunning dancer Venuri Perera and her family. Incredible hosts and her father makes the most delicious mango chutney on earth. delicious truly!!!

Then back to Edinburgh, where sadly no performance this year but an amazing job working with Edinburgh Festivals taking delegates from 40 different countries round the city and showing off how lucky we are to live here and have these amazing events happening all year round. Edinburgh is a fantastic place!!!

Saw a ton of shows which was great. These ranged from the Made in Scotland series including the very clever and very sweet Paperbelle and The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean. I did really enjoy it but I think it could have got going slightly quicker. I also loved Angus, Weaver of Grass by Horse and Bamboo theatre company. Brillaint use of puppetry, film and just very well put together, espeically the Gaelic element and singing of Mairi. What else? The Zimbabwe Express was good fun and hugely energetic! I also saw The Girl with no Heart and The Night of the Bog Wind. Again very interesting use of puppetry and thought provoking, enjoyable pieces. Managed to catch some of the South African season with Mama Africa and The Millers Tale, Wahala Dey Oh which Isla was performing in. Chaucer’s tale in a Nigerian setting. Very interesting and Ufuoma was a lovely woman whose determination to bring the show here was incredible. Despite all the odds….she made it! Saw The Stranger from Brazil, A Comic Destiny and I’m sure there were more but it was quite exhausting!!!!

What did you see? Anything that you would recommend for next year or to catch touring? Let me know. Open to odd suggestions too.

Back to Singapore… Managed to get a storytelling slot at Barefoot, the reknowned cafe for performing arts and a hub of activity with a lovely cafe, shop, etc. There was a night celebrating womanhood and raising awareness of domestic violence and other issues affecting women. I was able to tell the story of the kings mirror, a beautiful story that celebrates the most beautiful thing about women and why we should be proud of it. I will have to record that and put it on facebook, or here!


Am also very excited about the up and coming Edinburgh Mela festival where Toto Tales will be performing a shortened version of our show Tyi Wara. It’s on at 13:30 on Saturday and 14:45 on Sunday for those who can make it or who missed it at the Storytelling Centre. Check out the brilliant Leither where we are on the cover:)

What else is happening. We are getting ready with Starbird. the wonderful Fadzai Mwakutuya and Florence Menzies busy squirreling away behind the scenes. This is for the Inspiration festival in Glasgow in October.

Isla is also working more with Chris Dolan, playwright, screenwriter and talented man all round which is very exciting!

We also going down South to the Settle festival in October, the first one we’ve done, so that’s very exciting! See a photo of the festival founder Sita Brand below!

Anyway, that’s just a tiny bit of what’s been happening but hope to be updating more regularly.  It’s late so the brain is struggling now. Goodnight and remember to let me know your best bits of the festival xxx



So it’s taken a little while to get here, but here is a tiny trailer from our Tyi Wara show. Of course, there is plenty more but just to give you a little flavour. Hope you enjoy it! Click link above to view.

Please leave a comment below to let us know what you think. That would be much appreciated!

Toto love





Can Kids get Serious?

IT’S THE END OF THE HOLIDAYS!!! so for the last few days, I have told at a number of storytelling sessions/activities and taken my 4 year old daughter to a few too. After a few too many row your boats, I began to wonder why whenever young children are around (3-4 year olds), so many of us resort to the ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ and ‘baa baa black sheep’ favourites? Is it because we are comfortable that they [the little ones] will be comfortable? The familiar is safe and so we don’t need to challenge ourselves too much?

Now, it’s not that I don’t like these rhymes or feel that we should never use them, I do myself on occasion… but my worry is that many people believe that young children are simply incapable of handling ‘bigger’ stories. If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing the incredible piece of theatre ‘WHITE’ by Catherine Wheels, then you will know that stories seep into the soul regardless of age. Any two year old will have recognised the extreme injustice so perfectly demonstrated.

I believe choosing the stories we expose our children to is immensely important. Long before school as we now know it existed, our education everything we thought, believed, aspired to, etc was brought about through stories. our focus on stories from across Africa, I wish that children will be as familiar with Anansi the spider as they are with the Gruffalo. I wish that their dreams would involve outwitting cunning Sungura (Hare) and celebrating the wisdom of tortoise. I wish they would grow knowing why Dedan Kimathi fought as he did, who was Queen Nzinga of Angola and that they wonder where the Golden Stool of the Ashanti really came from. The incredible stories of the orishas from the Yoruba. The dense layers of these stories are rich in content, so full of wonder and quite simply beautiful to listen to.










A storytelling friend of mine of Indian origin, Malaysian upbringing and currently resident in Singapore told me how her father introduced the great epic Mahabharat to her from a very young age.

An immense story, a epic saga that scholars have difficulty interpreting. She remembers at the age of 3 or 4, her father sitting down at breakfast and feeding her the tiniest little tidbits from the story, that when pieced together many years later, revealed the full story. Sitting down with a three year old and recounting hours of story will not work but  by letting little seeds settle deep inside, he ensured that those seeds were nurtured and did grow. These BIG stories are necessary to give our children a greater sense of the world around us. Do they get it? Probably better than many grown ups!

I was horrified to hear a squeaky clean adaptation of The Little Red Hen story a few evenings ago. In the new version, the hardworking character feels sorry for those other poor lazy souls and decides to share her cake, or whatever it was with them. EXCUSE ME!!!!!!! What is going on? Yes, charity is a great thing but we are sending mixed signals, allowing them to think that certain behaviours are acceptable, when they most certainly are not.

Let us not be afraid to share bigger stories with tiny people. The way we tell it may be different but the essence will get through and difficult though it may be, we need to acknowledge that sometimes it’s a good thing for our children to experience stories that are not the Disneyfied, singing, clapping happy type.

Do you think they CAN deal with more? Let me know what you think.

Toto x