A Night of Dark Fairytales.
It was a cold, bright Monday morning in Lambeth overlooking the grounds of the Imperial War Museum when it struck me that I’d like to spend the evening exploring or attending or immerse myself in the presence of something dark, something fantastical, something enigmatic and ever so slightly Goth.
A tall order at the best of times. My mind was so whetted by attending a showing of the director’s cut of The Shining the night before at the British Film Institute. I’ve seen the movie before but not on the silver screen nor in its original full length glory.
The move ended sometime around 11pm I think and we wandered out to the walkway along the Southbank. It was a freezing cold night and for London, it was eerily quiet. God knows where the rest of the audience had scurried off to as everyone seemed to have melted into the ether, nearest bar or underground.
We walked along the Thames, that cold viscous slab of trembling black silk, flowing forever behind some unseen bride like a never ending train of a never ending wedding-dress, vanishing into indistinct points behind distant buildings. Along the sidings, bare branches glittered like the wistful chintz memories of long forgotten friends and long spent better times past.
In the distance, noises, almost whimpers of unseen vehicles and people floated past and melted away like the cries of ghosts that still talk of St Giles and have never heard of Oxford Street.
It was in this dark and gothic conceit that I fell into trance and later into a slumber.
It was in this mood that I woke up the following morning.
I logged on and did some investigation and within minutes on the Timeout app, I came across this gem, and I quote:
Ex Libra Macabre by Theatre Delicatessen, 25 Marylebone High Street, London.
This immersive theatre experience builds a world of storytelling and performance. Step through an ancient library of stories and poems where tales of ancient curses, fateful card games, ghostly spirits and blood red roses are brought to life. Where everything is not quite as it seems and there are hidden depths all around you.
As you can imagine, dear reader, the hook had hooked me and I made the booking.
[Later that evening…]
We arrived at a building, 35 Marylebone High Street. It wasn’t a theatre as such but a disused suite of offices where the BBC once occupied. After a drink at the bar on the ground floor, we were all led upstairs to a room where we were greeted by a young lady who invited us to write a poem about Christmas and to hang it on the rather restrained and unadorned Christmas Tree that stood like an unmarried elder sister behind the little crowd who had just gathered.
After some nervous getting-to-know-you laughter and small talk and the passing off biscuits that everyone felt too cool to take and be seen eating, a young lady dressed in a black cat-suit sang a beautiful song. I sadly forget what the song was about but it was simply stunningly beautiful. Then we were led into another, much larger room that was more dimly lit.
Now for the night-proper.
The audience sat in chairs around left and back wall of the room. At the far corner sat the sound engineer and in the middle, the players. The players were dressed in what I can describe as Japanese-looking kimono-meet-karate-meets-leisure wear.
The first act of the night was a spine-chilling incantation of Alfred Noye’s poem The Highwayman. I have to state the room was the size of an average office and the action took place within feet of the audience (which numbered around 15 or thereabouts). The poem was recited with relish, vigour and passion and it brought to life the story of the doomed highwaymen in a way I had never experienced before. I had encountered the poem a long time ago as a school-boy in a time when poems were dispensed by unimaginative teachers in much the same way as chemists dispensed cough-mixture.
I forget the order of the rest of the show but the following montage of poems/songs/stories were subject to the most spine-chilling, evocative and empathetic rendition, accompanied by percussion and other instrumentation which laced the evening with a darkly romantic twist like a black ice-cube in a tall thin glass of cold, crisp gin served while the lights dim at midnight:
David Bowie – ‘Please Mr Gravedigger’
Florence and the Machine – ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’
The Decemberists – ‘The Rake’s Song’
Angela Carter – The Tiger’s Bride
Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven
American Traditional ‘ You Will Be My Ain True Love’
And one of tales of the Brothers Grimm
If I be pushed to name my favourite, it would have been ‘The Rake’s Song’ where the male singer depicted the role of a young man who went to the electric chair for poisoning his wife. The original version by The Decemberists is quite tense and raucous but this rendition was a more sombre affair accompanied by re-enactment of the narrative of the lyrics without ever seeming contrived in any way.
The evening ended, sadly and we once again ventured out into a cold December night in London. Black cabs and brave cyclists whizzed by, pedestrians scurried to and fro around us. For all they knew, we had just left the office for the night.
Little did they know and how little we knew about them.
I commend this show to you and if you can get to this gem of dark romanticism, I wholeheartedly suggest you do and do it soon before its run ends.
You will be delighted.
Darkly of course.
- Jade Alexander
- Sonia Allan
- Akie Kotabe
- Tom Judd
- Liz McMullen
Director: Joe Thorpe