The Devil’s Violin Company combine the storytelling power of Daniel Morden with the thrill of live music; joining forces with director Sally Cookson, there is also a theatrical element to ‘A Love Like Salt’, an interweaving of three classic tales. The storyteller and three accompanying musicians walk on stage and with minimal movement hold us spellbound for a two-act performance lasting an hour and a half. But how to judge the performance?
Do we credit the occasional theatricality of Morden’s style, pacing the stage, pretending to slurp soup and gobble food, gesticulation punctuating the resonance of what is, at core, an hour-
‘Human beings are hardwired to be fascinated by stories,’ Morden says by way of introduction. He offers us an evening where three contemporary retellings of some very old tales are ‘a cure for your madness’. ‘The gods of the story,’ he reminds us at one point, ‘are cruel.’ Using the repeated phrase ‘our path takes us elsewhere’, Morden skilfully weaves an intricate tapestry. Stories are cut off – like episodes of Eastenders – at key moments, to be resumed later. At times it becomes a challenge to follow, to remember which story we are in, but this is where the musical backdrop comes into its own.
Morden’s muscular prose has a directness born out of sinewy nouns and verbs; the music adds adjectival intricacy. The stories are drawn in bold, confident lines; Sarah Moody’s cello, Oliver Wilson-
A Love Like Salt references the 1001 Nights, the ultimate compendium of stories and storytelling, but its main focus is on unlocking a trio of folktales that predate some of English literature’s most celebrated works. In exploring the influences on Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ and the stories that inspired Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ about the Franklin and the Wife of Bath, they serve as a reminder of the Brythonic past: the Celtic roots of even the most ostensibly ‘English’ of ‘classics’. Commissioned by the Bodleian Library and the English Faculty at the University of Oxford, ‘A Love Like Salt’ – with its hugely accomplished simplicity – is a timely reminder of the power of the story to unite. Despite that we have witnessed nothing more flashy than Daniel Morden’s snazzy purple shirt, we leave the theatre as if having awoken from a dream.