STOLEN at the North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford

The art of the storyteller is ancient and the stories told often suggest an inter-connectedness of cultures long before our current ‘globalised’ world order. The tales themselves usually involve a seemingly impossible quest, an unbeatable foe and a princess rescued by a prince. The story told in Stolen is no exception although there is a contemporary slant to it in terms of the independence of the female characters.
The Devil’s Violin is a small company which tours to small venues, blending words and music to create an atmospheric evening where one gets lost in the rhythm of voice and strings. Daniel Morden, the storyteller is a tall, imposing figure in black who holds the audience with his mesmeric voice and countenance. His movements are minimal but consequently when they do happen it is to great effect. The musicians, Sarah Moody and Oliver Wilson-Dickson sometimes accompany the story and sometimes play alone conveying the mood and providing the colour for this simple but effective performance.They were extremely sensitive players who created both a hypnotic background and interlude to the sound of the words.
The audience is challenged before the interval to question and contribute to the tale and this interaction began the second half. This worked very well and allowed some humour in an otherwise fairly sombre evening. The storyteller remarked that we were of course in Oxford, as more and more interesting thoughts and unusual words were offered to solve the puzzle posed.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this performance and I had questioned why this was not a matinee/ early evening piece for children. However, because the production relies totally on the three performers and is devoid of set, props or costumes, it demands total concentration and commitment from the audience. The flyer states that it is suitable for anyone over 10 for this reason.
Storytelling is a particularly strong part of the Welsh tradition and I was not surprised that two of the performers are from Wales. The violinist is part of a folk group called Alaw which means ‘melody’. There are beautiful books and CDs of the company’s shows to buy in the interval and they would certainly make wonderful gifts for all those children (and adults) who don’t get a chance to see The Devil’s Violin for themselves.     ★★★★☆     Karin André     14th October  2017