After a remarkably stress free journey - heeding the advice of other mums I breastfed Noah through take off and landing and he slept for pretty much the entire three hour flight - we arrive in Marrakech in the early evening. After some haggling over a car with an entirely unofficial car-hire 'guy' we drive into the new town of Marrakech to a hotel where the Moroccan actor (and major star) Said Bey is staying, who manages to negotiate a 50% discount. Said is an old friend of Lahcen's and can hopefully facilitate several connections and conversations with other artists in Morocco. Serendipitously he is also fascinated by the story-tellers and the oral storytelling traditions of Morocco and we start exploring with him what this show might eventually be, over a pot of mint tea in a local cafe. We had known before we flew that whatever HALQA becomes there will be mint tea involved, in the show itself, not simply its creation - and it feels apt that our first exchange takes place over a glass of the super sweet, super hot concoction.
After discussing the meaning of the word 'Halqa' used to described the circle of audience that forms around a storyteller (and also snake-charmer, musician, acrobat etc) we headed off to the Jemaa El Fna - one of Morocco's most well-known landmarks and now a world heritage site - to see the Halqa in action. It's an intense experience, a cacophany of drums, hawkers, orange juice sellers and street food vendors, a mass of humanity crammed together in this huge public square where for hundreds of years story-tellers have spun their tales alongside acrobats and snake charmers. Noah has a field day, of course. I think Morocco suits him.
We don't expect to meet a master storyteller on our first night in Morocco - the rise of TV and radio, coupled with the rising sound levels in the Jemaa - have led to a huge decline in oral storytelling - and if we are to find some genuine story-tellers while we are here we will have to hunt them out. But after our evening in the Jemaa we now at least have a little understanding of the circle, of the halqa, as well as a new-found friend in Morocco's answer to Brad Pitt - Said Bey.