Last night, I have the great pleasure of not going to see Monty Python (I'll save that for another night) but instead spend a night out in London with Neil Gaiman telling me stories.
He has revived his Sydney Opera House performance with Eddie Campbell's illustrations and the string orchestra FourPlay, The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains, in which he tells the story of Scottish highland and higher land, or reavers, of revenge, of history and of landscape, a currency of cows, of fathers and children and a cave full of gold that comes with a price on an island that both is and isn't there, lost in the mist…
He's performing it again tonight (it says it's sold out but it said that for last night and there were a few tickets available at the desk – might be worth calling and asking) and tomorrow in Edinburgh at Usher Hall (tickets definitely still available).
And with current politics the way they are, it's hard not to be drawn in to read in all sorts of allegories to September's referendum on the independence (or not) of Scotland. Does Scotland have its own cave full of gold in North Sea Oil and other resources? Will it disappear like the Misty Isle and what will the consequences, the price that will be paid, whatever decision is made. Is the truth a city, is the truth a cave? Should you be suspect of a man with a house too grand for any reaver? What is the purpose of a left handed fortune? And whatever the future of Scotland, as if whatever is decided by politics could change the mountains, the bones of the earth, reducing us to nothing but arguing ants. Because whoever rules it, kings want more… that's what they do.
We are told the tale of a little person, fitting the Scottish vernacular of a "wee man", who is more than he seems, both in physical ability, and the history that he confesses to, as he takes a journey in search of fortune with another, and both have motivations hidden well until the end. Music is haunting, is light, is full of action and passion and determination as our wee man runs across the Misty Isle, and full of dread. Campbell's art does the wonderful trick of comic books, taking the words lifting through the air and bringing them down to the ground, embedding them, anchoring them in our minds and here, projected at such a size that it fills out vision, our senses obsessed. And the faces, as craggy as the rocks, and the rocks as alive as the faces.
When first performed in Sydney, he had drawn thirty-five illustrations. Now they number over a hundred.
I took a quick peek at the audience, lit by the light on the screen of the mist, and saw them all, a thousand faces, concentrating so hard, not one looking away… only me. I felt guilty, and turned back. And before I knew it, the world had been snatched away from me.
And I am left with questions about myself and others, to take away with me, following the yellow line to Barbican tube station, but questions that have physical form in the paint (and MS Paint) of Eddie Campbell and the strings that inspire and damn equally.
This was the second half of the show, but such was its power, it made the first half slink the memory like the reflected ghost seen in the mist in the second half.
But I return to it now, FourPlay lightening the mood by starting with the Doctor Who theme, before running through a few numbers, lit like neon against the night, the colours resembling a seedy sex shop in seventies Soho. They glow.
Neil talked about how delivering a speech to his old school earlier that day was scarier than reading and singing at the Barbican. And yes, he would sing. For the antepenultimate appearance of his beard, he would not have to be cajoled into this by his wife tonight, he sang his breakup song of the 21st century, I Google You, rewritten to incorporate the latest in social media branding. He read The Day The Saucers Came. And he read the unpublished, unbroadcast story Adventure Story, about a father whose fantastic adventures would never be known by the world, absorbed into the mundane. But not before telling us about the time Amanda Palmer wanted to pose naked with a Degas statue in a gallery while he sketched her in chalk, coffee cups held over the security cameras.
It's a life.
And as much as I enjoyed all this, and I really did, the main event was the main event, nicely topped by Hayley Campbell interviewing her father, Neil and Four Play on stage, with the chance to plug her new book about Neil (available with The Truth Is A Cave In the Black Mountain in the foyer) as well ask enquire as to exactly why so many Campbells had to die in the story…
I know I want to experience it again. And with the book I can. But now with the strings of Fourplay and the burr of Gaiman still ringing in my ears.
As I walked out, I almost bumped into comics fan and comedian Lenny Henry, who knows Neil of old from Comic Relief and producing the TV series Neverwhere. he was on his way to see Neil. With the publication of How The Marquis Got His Coat Back, is there any chance of a Neverwhere Two?