Press Resources

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General Information

Please note that the Shonaleigh web site and email addresses changed on 1st August 2017.
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About Shonaleigh

“You hear people talking about the storytelling revival, but in Jewish culture it never died. I lived and breathed the tales during my childhood, unaware that this was anything unusual.”

Shonaleigh is one of Europe’s leading storytellers. Having learned the Drut’syla tradition from the age of four, she carries thousands of oral stories from the Jewish tradition and shares their magic, mystery and wisdom with audiences around the world.

“It was quite routine for me to fall asleep at night listening to songs and stories in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Dutch and Turkish – a wonderful colourful mix.”

Shonaleigh performs at storytelling festivals and events in Europe, America and Australasia as well as working with acclaimed organisations including the BBC, Hull Truck Theatre and appearing as a special guest at The International Conference of World Affairs. She is an experienced and highly skilled performer and regularly collaborates with some of the UK’s most respected storytellers including Daniel Morden, Dr Simon Heywood and Peter Chand.

A passionate advocate for the development of storytelling as a cultural and educational tool, Shonaleigh has been involved in several projects around Holocaust memorial as well as running training for the Leo Baeck Rabbincal College. She is an associate lecturer in the University of Derby’s Creative Writing department.

For many years, Shonaleigh has shared the techniques of the Drut’syla storytelling tradition with students from across the globe. However, she is probably the last carrier of this age-old tradition.

Images of Shonaleigh by Outroslide Photography

These images are Copyright © Outroslide Photography. All rights reserved. They are made available for use in articles or publicity in connection with Shonaleigh’s activities.

Images of Shonaleigh by Howard Barlow

These images are Copyright © Howard Barlow Photography. All rights reserved. They are made available for use in articles or publicity in connection with Shonaleigh’s activities.

Images of Shonaleigh by Antoinette Burchill

These images are Copyright © Antoinette Burchill. All rights reserved. They are made available for use in articles or publicity in connection with Shonaleigh’s activities.

The Cycle of Menasseh

This cycle consists of the following eight stories


Told by Shonaleigh

A King and his Queen long for a child. There is only one way to fulfil this wish: the King must pluck a fruit from the strange and wonderful Ruby Tree, planted by Elijah himself and guarded by a shape-shifting witch.

This haunting story has been preserved in Jewish tradition for centuries, carrying echoes of Rapunzel, Snow White and the Twelve Brothers.

Our tales may travel, but the themes within them cross cultures, and wherever they go, they speak to us of our longings and failings, the hopes of generations yet to be born, and the triumph of the human spirit.


Told by Shonaleigh

A day comes when everything changes.

What should have been the happy ending is the beginning of a nightmare. A blessing has become a curse and the curse is the only way to survive.

When her world is torn apart Reisal has to watch as her family disappears and she herself becomes nothing more than a pawn of the powerful; Zekal Ben Yakov has to watch as his son sets out on a quest with only half a puzzle and a sack of questions.

The only thing that can save them all is a firewolf, an icefish, a snow tear and a goat-horn bee.


Told by Shonaleigh

Of all the journeys one takes, it is the ones we fear the most that we gain from.

Nobody entering the Opal Forest emerges unscathed; they stagger into the light and for a moment it is the real world that seems as a dream. The scholar becomes a hero, the wise man is driven mad, the fool becomes a warrior without reason, and the innocent are older than they should be. The happiness of a single moment can last a lifetime; a landscape of sorrow can last beyond the grave: the key is knowing which forest to get lost in, which mountain to climb, which battle to walk away from.

Trust is important“, she said.

Can I trust you?” he replied.

Can you afford not to? This is not sad; it is a change, a letting go, from which something else may begin“, she said,

Whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace, I will offer it up as a burnt offering“.

“This thing of beauty
Held within a hand and heart
Will betray us all”.

The Opal Forest is the third tale in the Gem Cycle from the Drut’syla tradition. Originally told over several nights, it is told now within a single evening.


Told by Shonaleigh

In the next episode of Shonaleigh’s acclaimed Gem cycle, Prince Rahab’s kingdom is threatened.

The power which, from the beginning of time, has held destructive waters in check depends on the inscription of an unutterable name, and the name is being erased.

Rahab and his Queen must make a sacrifice to save the kingdom, but the prince has been imprisoned by a woman who has been done a terrible wrong, and the queen is on a quest to find him.

Not to be missed, it’s a world first!.


Told by Shonaleigh

An ancient warlord is looking for three objects that will give him possession of all the kingdoms of the world.

The Sapphire Staff given to Adam at the begining of the world, that can make the waters of the world part. A Snakeskin Cloak that smells of the Apples of the Garden of Eden and the Book Of All Things which contains the song of the sun and the thoughts of the rain.

Only two can stop him … a young man who’s Grandfather was cursed to be half eagle half man … and a young woman who holds the last secret of Eve’s three beautiful daughters!


Told by Shonaleigh

Tobias, father of The Diamond Girl, has his own story. One night his fate is linked forever with that of a Fire Wolf. We will journey with Tobias through seven trials, seven, stories, seven soul searing moments as he quests to redeem this soulless creature.


Told by Shonaleigh

In a remote castle a Makhshef – a sorcerer and bringer of chaos – lived alone. But it had not always been so; once upon a time he had an imprisoned girl and a city to torment and all power and mayhem and evil was his. And then one day, he was tricked. The woman had taken the silver threads of the moon and sewed images into a blue cloth, taking everything embroidered to a place of safety. One by one, all who he threatened disappeared until finally she had embroidered herself into the cloth and he was all alone. In a rage, the Makhshef took the cloth and would have destroyed it had his eye not caught the half-finished likeness of himself, glinting in the moonlight. He could not destroy the cloth without destroying himself. So he remained alone, with nothing to do and nothing to torment.
One chill night he came upon a dove, frozen and still at the edge of the road. Out of curiosity and boredom, the Makshef picked it up, curious, and took it back to his empty palace.
“I am the Dove of Heaven,” said the bird. “You have saved me. What can I give you in return?”
The Makhshef felt something strange – his face was wet.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Tears,” replied the Dove.
“I want a soul,” whispered the Makhshef.
“You can only have a soul if you wander – 7 years in each direction. And you must find a woman who can stitch the cloth.”
This is the story of a demon is search for a soul and for only woman in the world who can finish stitching his image into the Cloth of Hope and Sorrow.


Told by Shonaleigh

At the beginning of all things, the creator hid ten wonderful things around the globe – gifts for the human race.
But time passed and these wonderful things remained unseen and undiscovered.

King Ben Barim had been on many adventures – he had driven out monsters, gathered helpers, retrieved lost objects and saved the day – but he had not met the woman who would be his wife. He went to the Elders and they told him that she would only be revealed to him if he found the Ten Wonderful Things that had remained hidden for so long.

So King Ben Barim set off, comfortable that he knew the pattern, the path, the direction he must tread and confident in the outcome – he would return victorious as he had been on other quests at other times.

But this was not just another quest and not all was as it seemed.

Join tradition bearer Shonaleigh to hear the incredible tale of the Ten Wonderful Things – the final story in the Mannasse cycle from the Drut’syla storytelling tradition.


Some of Shonaleigh’s recent shows


by Shonaleigh

Join one of Europe’s foremost storytellers and hear the story of her life on the road as a single mother, a dyslexic storyteller and a woman who has the knack of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Oh yes – it’s totally manageable.

I’m sitting at the top of the stairs in my bra and knickers, doing a live phone interview with Woman’s Hour about how being a full-time storyteller and single parent is totally doable.

You just have to be organised.

I am very convincing.

My son toddles past wearing nothing but a nappy, a Stetson and a plastic gun holster.

Touring full time with a baby is no problem at all.

My son is trying to pin a sheriff’s badge onto the cat.

The interview ends. I put down the phone to search for my trousers and wonder if I can get away with odd shoes for the day.

Yup. It’s all going according to plan…


Told by Shonaleigh

Among the stories of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel there are many tales of wonder, wit and wisdom. But one of the strangest has to be the story of the Golem of Prague.
In the time of the Emperor Rudolf II, the Jewish community of Prague suffered great persecution. Each Passover, the Jewish Quarter lived in fear of pogroms, the pretext for these being the notorious blood-libel – the slanderous rumour that Jews used the blood of Christian children to bake the matzos, the unleavened Passover bread.
The Emperor could not, or would not, protect the community. So the Maharal made a Golem, a man-made man, from the clay of the Vltava river, to protect the community in times of trouble: a Golem upon whose forehead was written the Hebrew word emet, meaning truth; a Golem who had the unutterable Name of the Most High on a parchment placed upon his tongue – giving him just life enough to obey his human creator, but no other sense of right or wrong.
Each night Rabbi Loew removed the Name of the Most High from the Golem’s tongue, and he slept.
But one night – so some stories say – Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the Name …
My bubbe would often say that every Jewish child was told the story of the Golem of Prague. She would always finish by telling me: He sleeps beneath the leaves – until we need him. When I was a little girl I would spend hours kicking up the leaves in the forest, hoping to find him. What little girl doesn’t need a knight in clay armour? But I never found him.
Years later, I realized that I had probably mistaken her point. I had always thought my bubbe had meant leaves from trees, but for her the leaves were pages of books and scrolls. For according to one legend the Golem sleeps in the attic of the synagogue in Prague, where the old books were stored. She had been telling me that the Golem lies asleep beneath old words.
And so I think he may. Here is the full story of the Golem of Prague.


Told by Shonaleigh

Out towards to East there is a vast forest of cedars, trees so old they remember a time before the heavens stopped speaking to the earth.
Beneath those trees there runs a river, that becomes a stream, that trickles into a pool. Beside that pool there is a rock. And on that rock there sits a girl, so pale, she seems exposed too often to the moon. The girl is speaking to a scorpion, repeating the same words over and over, exhausted by their repetition:
“It was a jar … not a box … ”
And so begins a journey that never seems to end …


Told by Shonaleigh

In the last clearing of the Warsaw ghetto, three children find themselves on a transport to Auschwitz. They encounter the “fool of the Warsaw ghetto” sitting in the back of the truck in his dusty coat with his battered violin. He offers them a moment of magic in which to escape – if they have the courage to take it.

Not all stories have a happy ending, but they should all begin with outrageous hope.


Told by Shonaleigh

A man in search of his voice.
A woman in search of her son.
A queen in search in her freedom.
A world in search of bread.

In medieval Odessa, a humble Jewish baker, Lemuel, takes in a foundling. But the boy has a secret and as time passes the secrets grow within the silence. Before Lemuel can tease out the tangled knot of riddles which his stepson has inherited from his mysterious past, he must go on a journey that will take him halfway round the world.

The Tower of Bagel has the honour of being the very first commission by Festival at the Edge in 1998.


Told by Shonaleigh

A set of stories to uncover an age-old mystery. For centuries men have pondered this question and for aeons women have known the answer. Journey through stories old and new in a quest to finally pin down the elusive nature of what women really want! Of course, however, a woman can always change her mind!


Some of Shonaleigh’s recent collaborations


With Shonaleigh and Peter Chand

Unnerving tales of demons, spirits and unspeakable taboos from the compelling Indian and Jewish traditions. Travel the depths of the underworld or encounter bizarre holy men in the forest in a disturbing and abundant feast of storytelling from two of Europe’s most accomplished storytellers.


With Shonaleigh and Peter Chand

The fate of the kingdom lies in the hands of two men. Can Jakov and Pardesi put aside their differences and reach the magical city of Lutz- a place where men forget who they are? From the shade of the Pomegranate Tree, their road trip takes them to the door of a Rabbi in need of a sugar rush, a Swami who alters destiny and a demon who outstays his welcome.

Shonaleigh and Peter Chand are two of Britain’s most exciting and accomplished Storytellers. They have created an innovative performance piece based around stories they have collected from their respective Jewish and Indian backgrounds. Having then translated them, many are being told here for the first time.

When two ancient cultures walk side by side, only one question remains: Are the healing properties of Chicken Soup really more effective than Lamb Biryani?


With Shonaleigh and Peter Chand

What price fury, when loyalty is questioned?

A tale of deceit, cunning, and the many faces we all wear. A king, a vizier, and a new bride who is set three impossible tasks on which her very life depends. The mighty King Shubash marries not for love, not even for desire, but out of fear. Fear of one woman’s wisdom, and the power that she possesses. Can Hannah Leah break through ancient perceptions, and come out on top in a man’s world?

“By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.” Rabindranath Tagore


Told by Shonaleigh and Simon Heywood

The forgotten story of the sixteen thousand who refused to kill.

Out of the Silence is a storytelling performance by Simon Heywood and Shonaleigh Cumbers, drawing on first-hand accounts of the lives of the conscientious objectors of the First World War and bringing their experiences to life in a moving, compassionate, sometimes humorous, always heartfelt and ultimately life-affirming account of the hardships and trials of the men who refused to fight, while at the same time linking their experience with the origins of the modern peace movement in the UK and their relevance to us today.


With stories told by Shonaleigh

In the winter of 1968 three Hull trawlers sank in Arctic waters. The loss of 58 men devastated the close-knit fishing community of Hessle Road. For the first time in their history the fishermen’s wives took action. They marched, campaigned and drew the world’s attention to their cause- the reform of an industry that was killing their men.

A powerful multi-media production with spoken word & song, image, film and compelling storytelling portraying the Hull 1968 Trawler Tragedy and the fishermen’s wives national campaign for improved safety at sea.

‘Turning the Tide’ vividly recreates a period when Hull women refused to suffer in silence, stepped out from the shadows, and shone a bright light on the closed male world of fishing. The event is devised & directed by Rupert Creed and features singing duo Hissyfit and acclaimed storyteller Shonaleigh.