In all of Edinburgh, there is not another venue as apt as the Scottish Storytelling Centre for Mara Menzies’ show Blood and Gold. As her audience files into the Netherbow Theatre, Menzies gazes out of her audience, an image of elegance and poise. There are sure to be high expectations following the reception of her 2018 show, The Illusion of Truth, and we are all eager for the story to begin.
Menzies is a wonderful storyteller. While a more intimate space might have been a better choice for this solo performance, Menzies fills the room with her energy and charm. Her voice as she sings Kenyan melodies resonates and has real vibrancy behind it. She makes the most of the material her all-adult audience give her when asked, unfazed by their awkwardness, and tries to lift us spirits with some light-hearted back and forth play. While it does boost the energy within the room, this audience participation element may be more than some audience members may bargain for and doesn’t add much to the storytelling experience.
While Menzies deserves endless praise for mastering her skill as a storyteller, the story itself is not the stirring and unforgettable one you’d hope. Introducing the story as one about the legacy of colonialism, Menzies opens strong as she addresses the inconsistent reception of black people within Scotland. She compares the welcome of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1846 and the murder of Axmed Abuukar Sheekh, a Somalian student killed near Grassmarket in 1989. This upfront demand for acknowledgement suggests that the next hour is going to be unflinching in its portrayal of colonialism and the mistreatment of African natives whose lands have been claimed.
Instead, this legacy is shrouded in symbolism and the guise of a young girl grieving about her late mother. Missing the stories her mother used to tell her, she is given a box of stories prepared by her mother before her death – its opening transporting her into stories of past lives. The allegorical element of Blood and Gold is certainly there, yet the meaning becomes lost in her rhetoric emphasising the timelessness of storytelling. Its subtlety means that what Menzies hopes to achieve – to educate her audience of our shared colonial past – is not strongly executed. As enjoyable as it is to watch her tell her stories, the further we go into the stories told from one generation to another, the more we forget about our main protagonist – so much so that her return at the end of the story comes as a surprise.
Even though the story may not meet expectations, Menzies’ energy leaves you feeling your hour together was time well-spent.