Though Halloween has slipped into collective memory, no one can deny Edinburgh is a city of the Gothic persuasion: one only has to look at the architecture to tell, and the tradition is never far from Edinburgh’s cultural mind-set. To acknowledge this, the National Library of Scotland entreated the public to ‘an evening of songs, readings and stories inspired by the Gothic tradition’.
Those in attendance were welcomed to Night Shadows with flickering candlelight to illuminate three lone figures presiding on the stage. Helen Clark and Andy Shuttleworth, armed with guitars, created an ambience of rustic, gypsy folklore with their ethereal acoustic accompaniment. Meanwhile, David Campbell’s tales and poetic extracts, told in his softly hushed yet arresting Scottish brogue, rendered the crowd silent.
For those unfamiliar to the Gothic, the evening was a multifaceted induction to the different elements of the tradition, encompassing its eerie atmosphere and heart-pounding exhilaration in many mediums. Clark huskily crooned three original songs between readings of Sheridan’s vampiric tale Camilla and Bronte’s Jane Eyre, culminating in her fast-paced and slyly insidious ballad of a ‘dreadful’ little girl whose magpie-like desire for gold leads her first to murderous acts, and then to a dark, watery end.
Those English Literature students in the audience would have recognised Campbell’s dramatic reading of Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which, accompanied by the occasional emphatic twang from the guitar for effect, held the characters and audience alike wrapt by ‘an invisible power’.
As well as the supernatural tales of vampires and poetic accounts of the ghostly, the evening focused on distinctly man-made horrors in the readings from Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Hyde and Frankenstein. Each was introduced by a fittingly symbolic dual guitar piece, where both players performed the same chords but discordantly out of sync to emphasise the Gothic idea of malignant duality. After being gripped by the intense moment of Jekyll’s metamorphosis and the inception of Frankenstein’s deformed creation, Campbell treated us to a Gothic tale of his own styling – one based on Edinburgh’s homegrown murderers, Burke and Hare. His invocations of the slinking mists and dark streets reinforced how, in this city, the Gothic is never very far away, lurking somewhere in anticipation. It’s likely that those who left the library on Thursday may have walked that bit faster home.
Photo credit: Kim Traynor