by Suzanne Collins
Meeting at the Theatre Royal, Margate on Saturday morning for our hour-long walking tour, we are introduced to our tour guide and the writer of Story Hunt, Daniel Bye. More than just a walking tour of Margate past, present and future, Story Hunt challenges the view that Margate is somewhere history happened to.
Our group of around 15 inquisitive souls, from toddlers to one gentleman in his eighties, are guided by Mr Bye and his imaginary yellow umbrella to various sites around the town, frequently stopping to hear stories of Margate’s people and places – some unchanged, some no longer there and some that on another day you probably would have walked past without a second glance.
This is very far from a dry, linear tour commentary and for someone like me where a monologue of dates, facts and figures will quickly dissipate into a sludgy mush, the storytelling, people-based approach was very welcome. At one point as we stand overlooking the beach we are invited to imagine a gleeful young woman on a day trip who has lost the bottle of stout she buried in the sand for safety, with other day-trippers lending a hand with her digging and searching. Then, jumping quickly to another point in Margate’s past, we are told of the infamous mods and rockers descending to the beach and running riot. This is followed by the tale of 46,000 exhausted troops arriving on the sands from Dunkirk in World War II to nothing more than the kindness of Margate residents, who rush to bring blankets and provisions from their meagre supplies. And all this before Dreamland is even mentioned!
The vividness of the characters linked only by place is heightened further when members of the tour group (or perhaps that should be audience; for this is also a performance) are asked to read a few lines on hastily whipped out flash cards, instantly becoming characters of times past. There is a balance between gentle humour and sombre reflection, which the short walks between our pauses allow us to ponder or discuss.
Now and again during the tour Bye invites us to think about the future of a young, imagined girl whom our group has named Chloe, and whom we first meet pondering the existence of hidden tunnels under the Theatre Royal. This narrative thread, in which we see glimpses of the child’s life as she grows older, suggests that our ‘Chloe’ could be many children of Margate’s future. Here and through the stories of all the other characters we meet on our journey we are shown that the history of Margate is shaped though the actions of its residents, as well as people just passing through. The future of the young girl and ultimately the future of Margate is up to us.
This was a one-day only event so you’ve missed your chance for this one, but there have been other Story Hunts by Daniel Bye, ARC Stockton and Fuel in Gateshead, Stockton and Berwick so perhaps there will be another in a town near you.