Last night I went to the Sydney Opera House to hear Neil Gaiman read his short story, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains“. Part of the new Graphic festival, he was accompanied by Fourplay, a string quartet, and a series of paintings by Eddie Campbell.
It was simply amazing. The story was charming, and seemed almost like an age-old myth. It told the story of a Dwarf and his journey to a cave in the Black Mountain that was rumoured to be full of gold. And while Gaiman read the story from a large stack of papers, it was more than just a reading. It was a performance full of subtlety and nuance.
He assumed a slight Scottish accent for most of the reading, and when speaking as the Dwarven protagonist talking to his travelling companion, his eyes shifted upwards as if he was talking to a much taller man. And at times there was just the trace of a smirk on his face, as if the Dwarf held a secret. Which of course he did. His voice was charming and soothing as he slipped into the world he had created.
I was extraordinarily lucky because I was in the third row. There were no large screens that showed Gaiman on the stage, and so being close was the only way to see his facial expressions. It made all the difference. The other thing that added to the performance was Fourplay, the string quartet. They weren’t just a traditional string quartet. They made atmospheric noises when they were needed and the music was hauntingly beautiful and matched the story perfectly. I wasn’t all that keen on the illustrations – paintings, really – but they didn’t really add or subtract from the piece so all in all it fit together perfectly.
A friend of mine who also went said that Gaiman kept 2000 people on the edge of their seat for 90 minutes, just by reading a story. And it’s true. The whole audience was enraptured, held spellbound.
After the night had ended I walked out into the cold and looked at the harbour and the people – it was a brilliant night in a fantastic city. And I was amazingly lucky to have experienced it. It was easily a once in a lifetime experience that could never really be repeated, though I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if Neil Gaiman came back next year and tried to do exactly that.