Sometimes, all a storyteller requires is a timeless narrative, solid delivery and a hook to ensnare the audience. The Crow’s Mouth achieves the first and latter points but sadly falters in its delivery.
The difficulty lies with the setting, while the Banshee Labyrinth’s catacomb-like interior, iron-clad gates and skeletal hangings are a perfect atmosphere, it’s also an echo chamber. As part of The Edinburgh Horror Festival, Twa Corbies take the opportunity to provide a classical reading of their concoctions, mingling them with some choice authors of Gothic prose. Seeking to plunge the audience into shadows, ghouls and death – we’re kept a little too close to the light of reality to fully immerse.
Divvying up the four tall-tales, Linda Perttula and Inés Alvarez cast a shadow over the Halloween twilight as they pursue a sense of fear through spoken word. From the graveyards and oak trees of a county village to the high seas, we are regaled with familiar tales and new. One telling of the work of a maestro of Gothic literature, Edgar Allen Poe is an impressive rendition, but its inclusion loses a few member of the audience due to its status as a tried and tested narrative, albeit a complex one, for the general Halloween crowd. It’s the definition of a slow-burner, a sumptuous yarn which requires delicacy, expert control of the language Poe wove, which Twa Corbies are capable of, but perhaps in another setting.
While Perttula and Alvarez may whip up the stories of old, clouding horrors behind imagery and lyrical tendrils, there’s a paramount issue with Twa Corbies recitations – the only thing scary this evening comes from the bar-dwellers rather than the tales spun. While their vocation contains passion, their annunciation and emphasis are misplaced; where the story should reach a peak, there is an awkwardness; where the knife should be driven in, a slow-down occurs. No cheap gags, jump-scares or effects occur, and while this makes for a stripped-back evening of the craft in its most minimalist form, it just doesn’t curdle the blood as much as one may expect.
With this, their real account of Scotland’s infamous body-snatchers (not Burke & Hare) is the star of the quartet of grisly tales, containing a correct balance of menace, history and plausibility; proving that history will always be far grimmer than anything the imagination can concoct. With its superior pacing, Twa Corbies potentially have a winning formula for traditional folk storytelling, were they to conform to the style of delivery they maintain for the body snatchers. World building is everything in storytelling, if you cannot capture this then you lose the audience. The story of the body snatchers has humour, with deep descriptive imagery of the pitch darkness of the country roads, lit by lamplight and burlap sacks containing secrets, it’s the easiest of the tales to paint an image of – thus making it the most accessible.
Twa Corbies tell their tales straight from The Crow’s Mouth. What they represent in traditional story-telling makes them gifted with their craft, but an unfortunate choice in venue and misalignment of delivery removes the audience from sinking into the depths of darkness.