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The Daily Info, Oxford

Suchita Shah The Daily Info, Oxford,
23 April 2012

Slick musical storytelling unlocks forgotten fairytales from The Devil’s Violin

“A word that has been spoken is like a stone that has been thrown – it cannot be taken back”.

How true. What else has such power to delight or destroy, illuminate or mystify, maim, enrapture or enamour? Oral traditions have spanned centuries, cultures and continents. One such tradition, the ‘dying art’ of storytelling, is well and truly revived in this latest coalescence of live music and spoken word from the Devil’s Violin Company.

‘Be prepared to be transported’, declares their website. Confidence, indeed, but not misplaced. In the beautifully lit Divinity School of the Bodleian library, Daniel Morden (story), Oliver Wilson-Dickson (violin), Sarah Moody (cello) and Luke Carver Goss (accordion) did indeed transport me to another world. A world in which the words of Shakespeare and Chaucer can play together in Camelot; where truth, honour, justice and – who’d have thought it – gender equality, prevail, and where the enduring power of love cannot be defiled by thwarted desire.

‘What do women desire the most?’ said Queen Guinevere to the knight. One could describe last night’s premiere performance as a trilogy of folk tales, each in two parts, suspended and then revisited, mirroring their content of bitter partings and sweet reunions. Precisely crafted, this combination of prose and music was as strong and rhythmic as a flowing tide, yet as hauntingly ethereal as a flower drizzled in morning dew. Additionally – and refreshingly – in no way were the musicians merely ‘accompaniment’: whilst the instrumental music was far better than the vocal, without either, frankly, even Daniel Morden’s extraordinary stage presence would not have kept me mesmerised, as it did, for the best part of ninety minutes.

Although based on known works, the script and music were almost entirely original. According to an after-show discussion with the crew, they were orchestrated and rehearsed to the level of a breath’s pause. One might argue that this moves storytelling away from what was an improvised, informal activity within families and communities (before television and Facebook blunted the art of conversation), to a stylised and commercial ‘performance art’. Well, it probably does. But I feel that there is room for both, particularly when the latter is such a joy to watch, and when its simplicity belies the skill required to create it. Even if scripted, to tell a tale for so long without repetition, hesitation or deviation (have they considered auditioning for a certain Radio 4 show?) is no mean feat. To weave words with gentle humour, unmarred by excessive irony, self-consciousness or unnecessary playing to the audience, to engender total, childlike absorption in any story, is to be applauded wholeheartedly.

If you want a memorable and delightful evening – and to understand the meaning of the title – do not miss their next performance at the North Wall Arts Centre on 17th May. But if you want to know what women desire the most, probably best just to ask one.