Spoken word review: Neil Gaiman, Edinburgh

Neil Gaiman brought his storytelling show to the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Neil Gaiman brought his storytelling show to the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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“A REVOLUTIONARY new concept of multi-media storytelling” trumpeted the various publicity materials for this event.

Neil Gaiman: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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There’s certainly no denying that a cocktail of words, music and illustration can make for an intoxicating evening, but when it comes to The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains, it seems that the media has well and truly trumped the message.

There was nothing especially wrong with this mythical tale of a notably short Scotsman on the hunt for vengeance, but neither did it feel major enough to warrant such top billing. Even the scariest of stories can elicit a laugh or two, but there was no hint of a chuckle here; nor was there much sense of your soul being moved by what should have felt like an awful tragedy. The screened illustrations from Eddie Campbell were enjoyable, though the rather diverse styles deployed became a little distracting.

While this was the night’s designated centrepiece, the first-half elements which were presumably intended as warm-up material ultimately proved to be far more satisfying. Gaiman’s accompanying band, Australia’s FourPlay String Quartet, was nothing short of magnificent. Starting off by taking the crowd’s temperature with the Doctor Who theme, the foursome launched into their own impressively evocative back catalogue, showcasing a real talent for playing double bass and violin like a guitar. When they moved into the second half to “underscore” the story, their skill at evoking the sound of a rope tightening or an eagle flying overhead helped enhance the atmosphere.

When Gaiman first took to the stage himself, his shorter tales (one about 21st century love, the other about creeping memory loss) left just as much of a chill in the bone as the core ghost story. A promised interview of Gaiman and FourPlay by Hayley Campbell (daughter of Eddie who, according to Gaiman, had “bottled it” by not appearing) was merely a spot of light banter about the author’s potentially negative attitudes towards the clan Campbell.

After regaling us with tales of the very special guest star (Ben Folds) who appeared for an encore at one of his London dates, we were left with Gaiman doing a passable vocal on a jet black Leon Payne tune about a psycho killer. It was a night which should have lifted the soul while simultaneously chilling the blood, but veered too often towards the lukewarm.