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The Stove – Electric Dreams Online Festival

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Creator: Emma Brand

Interactive theatre depends on the enthusiasm of the audience members, and The Stove, a storytelling experience playing as part of the Electric Dreams Online Festival, is no exception. Here players get to know each other reasonably well, an impressive feat over Zoom, and soon together create their own story, guided by host and creator Emma Brand. With eager players, The Stove is a fun 75 minutes, with a sense of community at its heart.

From the start, Brand succeeds in making the Zoom room a comfortable space, and it is not hard to join in the early conversations about memories and childhood games. But with different players, each with their own distinct memories, these conversations will be different each night. Brand only provides the framework; it is up to us to add the details.

Players are also asked to prepare food for the evening, and at one point the screen is full of people eating, hearty evening meals for those in the UK, and lunch for those dialling in from America. This virtual communal meal works surprisingly well, helped no doubt by the open and calm demeanour of Brand, who makes this potentially awkward ritual an easy one.

While eating, the story we tell evolves, and it is interesting to see people’s favoured literary genres influence the narrative. Some players take the story into magical realism while others scenes are coloured by science fiction, or even the Gothic. Brand makes sure that, despite the clash of styles, the story continues to flow, negotiating between those players who want a happy ending and those who favour the tragic.

The Stove, the metaphorical fireside around which we tell this story and the story of ourselves, manages to weave its own spell, and the show is a success, even if the experience is a virtual one and that we can’t quite hear the crackling of the fire. Thoughtful, and quietly moving, it’s heartening to see that we can still fashion our own fictions when real life has been put on hold.

Runs until 16 August 2020

Electric Dreams Online Festival Website 

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