The idea of Ex Libris Macabre is a very good one: spine-tingling storytelling for those who like their Christmastide tales to have an icy vein. The show is presented in a couple of rooms on Marylebone High Street: the first a welcoming, Christmas-cum-Alice in Wonderland lounge, the second a much emptier, colder space to provide a literal chill to accompany the metaphorical ones.
Twelve tales are told during the evening, with the role of lead storyteller rotating amongst a cast of five. The stories told range from songs to folklore and from fairytales to poetry. Some stories – and some storytellers – are inevitably more successful than others.
The first highlight for this reviewer was Sonia Allan’s introductory number "You Will Be My Ain True Love", a song written by Sting for the film Cold Mountain. Performed solo and unaccompanied, it was a perfect tone-setter for the evening, with an air of simplicity and mystery.
There is a very engaging interpretation by the whole company of Tiger’s Bride, a short story by Angela Carter in which a man loses his daughter to ‘The Beast’ in a game of cards, with fantastical final consequences. This is the evening’s most ‘theatrical’ segment, with well-developed acting and staging.
However, the presentation of several of the stories fails to adequately bring out their darker side. Some of the accompanying music and shadowy visuals serve to distract from rather than add to the storytelling, and the show could also benefit from some slightly more advanced use of lighting.
The overall impression on leaving the show is that Ex Libris Macabre is a great idea, but one that doesn’t quite reach its full potential. Relishing the sinister elements of the stories a little more, sharing out the storytelling duties more evenly (Thomas Judd in particular feels underused) and the inclusion of one or two even more gruesome tales could all have made the evening just that bit more darkly satisfying.
-by Emma Watkins