Station Stories

I spent this evening in Manchester Piccadilly railway station. That, in itself, isn't very unusual for me. I spend a lot of time in train stations and I'm always happy to do so. I often have one book, or several, in my bag but I'll sit and not read and watch the goings-on around me instead. I think most people have probably sat and watched and made stories up about their fellow travellers. Whether it's the girl with her shoes in her hand and plasters on her toes, or the man who is only pretending to read (you know because he isn't turning pages), or the woman who is sat on a bench wiping her eyes. But tonight I got to hear people's stories in a fascinating set of readings called Station Stories. This basically involved six writers, each with a story to tell, and an audience wearing wireless headphones listening in. And the writers and audience moved around the station amongst the completely oblivious public.

The stories were intriguing and haunting and they were read over an atmospheric live soundtrack. The writers took their inspiration from spending time at the station and came up with six brilliant and diverse stories. They made me think about the inner turmoils we carry around in an often unseeing world, about the urge to destroy reminders of the past, about the need to make things hurt less and the lengths to which someone would go to ease the pain, about the wealth of awareness that invisibility can bring, about secret places in stations, about the potentiality of a station's space, and about the sadness of waiting for a train that will never arrive. Hats off to the wonderful work of the writers, David Gaffney, Jenn Ashworth, Peter Wild, Thomas Fletcher, Tom Jenks and Nicholas Royle, and to the rest of the team behind the project.

The fact that the readings took place in a bustling station full of people, who at times glanced at the strange-looking group wearing headphones or at the peculiar behavior of the writers, added a fantastic element of suspense to the event and another layer to the stories. When one writer was littering the station with old greeting cards he was challenged by stranger and had to pick a card back up. And I loved watching a woman fight the urge to pick up a card that had fallen from the balcony above her whilst she waited for her order from Burger King. In the end, she tilted her head to read what was written inside it instead.

Listening to the stories whilst walking round the station made me realise just how unusual an environment a station is because it's clean of everything but people, who crowd and swarm and brush past each other's lives as they make their way to somewhere else. The grand architecture of stations like Piccadilly — elaborate constructions of metal and glass with cavernous interiors that make them seem set for a performance — is completely unnecessary. Trains aren't tall. But what a marvellous backdrop against which to watch and listen and wonder about people.

When the readings finished and I had to take my headphones off and hand them back I felt like I'd lost something. I was worried at first that the station could never again feel as alive with story as it had done tonight. Then I realised Station Stories may have been an unrepeatable experience, but it has left me with the reminder that the stories are always there.

(just a note to say that the final three performances of Station Stories will be tomorrow, Saturday 21st May, at 12pm, 3pm and 7pm. There may still be tickets left. You can check and book online here.)