Saturday 12 July 2014

Illustrating stories: ‘The truth is a cave in the Black Mountains’

Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman
I had been looking forward to Neil Gaiman's 'The truth is a cave in the Black Mountains' at the Barbican Hall, but was not sure what to expect. What we were given was a delightful evening of music by FourPlay string Quartet, stories by Gaiman, plus illustrations by Eddie Campbell, that I wish I could have seen and heard again.

I am not sure how I was introduced to the writing of Neil Gaiman - it might have been reading 'Good Omens' – but that was a long time ago. He is famous for writing 'Coraline', 'Neverwhere' and 'Stardust' – all of which have been made into films/TV – and comics/graphic novels including 'The Sandman'. Earlier this year I read the award-winning 'American Gods' which (it has been recently announced) will be adapted for TV by HBO. The BBC is planning a mini-series based on 'Anansi boys' a sequel (of sorts) to 'American Gods'. So lots for fans to look forward to.

The Australian quartet Fourplay started out in 1995 (with the purchase of pickups and distortion pedals) as four friends who were inspired by experimental quartets such as Kronos and the Brodsky Quartet. A couple of changes later and their line up now consists of Lara Goodridge (violin and vocals), Tim Hollo (viola), Shenton Gregorio (viola) and Pete Hollo (cello). Their deliberate choice to have two violas rather than two violins means that FourPlay has a deeper, warmer and potentially darker sound than the average string quartet.
They began the evening with subtly sliding electronically looped sounds, played from the depths of a darkened stage which coalesced into the theme tune to Dr Who. That set the tone for the evening and was very much appreciated by the packed auditorium. The rest of their set was a fusion of electronic folk, rock, progressive, and classical – definitely individual, including a song called 'Antioxidant', a cabaret number written and sung by Lara, and 'Now to the future' composed during a jam session which started out as a "big audacious, bold idea" and one that they hoped encompassed their dream of a "better, happier, safer world for everyone."

Gaiman followed this by reading some of his humorous poems including 'The day the saucers came' and anecdotes about adventures (although he claims adventures never happen to him – they happen to other people and he just happens to be there). The first half of the concert was rounded off by FourPlay playing, and Gaiman singing, his "response to 21th century torch songs" – 'I Google you'.

After the interval began the main event. 'The truth is a cave in the Black Mountains' was commissioned by the Sydney Opera House for its 2010 Graphic Festival. Billed as a synchronised multimedia story telling event, FourPlay provided a dramatic score to enhance the tension and mood of Gaiman's voice and the gripping images by renowned graphic artist Eddie Campbell. Cambell, who is the illustrator and publisher of 'From Hell', was born in Scotland but now lives in Australia.

The story is set is some kind of mythical Scotland where magic still exists, life is hard, and revenge is harder. It was attention grabbing from the outset – all of the elements combined to produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Sydney Opera House have put together some snippets from the performance:

The evening finished with a bit of an interview and plug for Gaiman's biography written by Campbell's daughter Hayley Campbell. Eddie Campbell was wearing a camouflage kilt which provided the starting point for jokes about killing Campbells (in literature not literally!). But the talk soon moved on to the inspiration for 'The truth...'. Gaiman told us about how in lived on the Isle of Skye in the house of Otta F. Swire, a Scottish storyteller, and how the idea for the story came from one of hers which he found haunting. He explained that the cave has a truth for the locals – "everyone on Skye knows where it is – they just won't tell you."

The final encore 'You think I'm psycho don't you, Mama' - "to remind [us] that the world is indeed a huggy place filled with roses and kittens" brought everyone back on stage for one last, late laugh.
I have two wishes. One is that someone records this/ converts it to TV format so that more people can see it, and the other is that they collaborate again. I would certainly be first in the queue – but I suspect that I would have to fight for my space.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover
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