A Love Like Salt

Fri 20th April – Wed 27th June 2012


Anca Farcas

at 00:20 on 21st Apr 2012



Coming back from "A Love Like Salt" tonight at the Bodleian Library, I understood why storytelling was and remains the foundation of every culture, the carrier not only of critical moral values, but of social unity and creative force. And in this case, of an incredibly beautiful evening and amazing passionate performance by The Devil's Violin Company.

I personally think no other form of art is so exquisite as spoken word; no other can unearth our emotions to such an extent, nor have the patience and power to dig through our numbed vitality and stir our imagination. And with such a gifted storyteller as Daniel Morden, it comes as no surprise that I have difficulty fighting off the regret of not having lived in those mythic times he so powerfully portrays. It was really something in his voice and way of performing that was beyond captivating, you could listen to him endlessly, such refined mixture of grief, anger, joy, love, obsession, that he could convey through effortless play of his voice. At the same time, I now could not imagine such a show without the accompanying music, which was in perfect synchrony with the stories; not too simple but at the same time, not too dramatic as to make it seem forced. It has been some time since I heard an accordion being played so beautifully, so if anything, I would have only included more musical segments to this event. Being commissioned by the Bodleian Library and the English Faculty with the occasion of The Romance of the Middle Ages currently running exhibition, the setting of the Divinity School provided the necessary picturesque location. The only other place that would have been as good would have been sitting around a fire on a summer night, huddled together completely enchanted.

It is a shame we do not have more opportunities to see this company in action, they will give another performance in May, which will surely be quite popular given the enthusiasm following tonight's event. Their humorous yet profound and original adaptation of those three wonderful classic tales ensures that the art of storytelling will not yet disappear but will continue to inspire. All in all, great job!


Nicholas Morgan

at 03:18 on 21st Apr 2012



The current exhibition devoted to romance through the ages at the Bodleian is lovely and intriguing, but alas this specially commissioned production fails to live up to the high expectations set by the exhibition it is designed to accompany. The one-night show at the Divinity School was memorable notably for its location, a truly striking space and suited to the subject of romance. I took much pleasure in the musical aspect of "A Love Like Salt." The violin, cello and accordion mixed wonderfully, echoing through the chamber; the bits including voice were especially striking. The walls and extraordinary ceiling of the Divinity School seemed to become the frozen music of the romantic songs that themselves conjured an endless questing, questioning, luminous world of love and tragedy now gone.

Less successful than the music was the narrative, which suffered partly because the choice of stories was limiting and partly because the language was lacking in texture. The company chose to adapt three well-known tales which are all quite similar, each describing the same (or nearly the same) female archetype found in some romances. As a broad approach to the sexual politics of a very old genre this could be interesting, but I longed for a more complex, varied and ultimately representative selection of stories. Where were the great female warriors, the deeply erotic scenarios, and the quest of the knight– his strange adventures rather than his return? These are the stories I love in romance. Why not add some Spenser or some Ariosto, some truly mysterious, amoral events from the Mabinogion or Geoffrey's Merlin, rather than the consistently comic Boccacian stories that ultimately made the cut? I love these stories, too, but wanted some variety. Romance makes us long for alternate worlds. As a genre, it brings these longings to life, places them before our eyes. Here, the extraordinary was masked by the fairy-tale.

Adapting Shakespeare and Chaucer is indeed a tall task, and alas the language of this production suffered sometimes from oversimplification. The power of Lear is thus somewhat lost in lines like 'How they danced, as if they were flying, all eyes were on them.' The decision to interweave the stories on the other hand was very clever and indeed, storyteller Daniel Morden's joy in leaving us with a cliffhanger was infectious. He was particularly good when introducing us to the court of King Arthur, and I wish this Arthurian mood had been allowed to pervade.

Probably both these problems reflect one ambiguity: it is never clear if this production aims to reproduce a medieval and Renaissance experience of romance or to translate older stories into a contemporary idiom. By switching back and forth, the potentially powerful experience of either mode becomes confused. Romance is very much alive, sometimes manifesting in utterly contemporary terms and set in the present day, such as in the Harry Potter series, or in works that whole-heartedly embrace their somewhat campy devotion to medieval settings and language, like the BBC's Merlin. The Bodleian exhibition demonstrates this fact, and it would be nice to have some of that freedom in this production.

It seems somewhat strange for the University to spend humanities funding, already limited, on an outside commission when masses of students, already immersed in the tropes and traditions of romance and working with a fraction of this budget, might have produced something just as good. As it was, the audience consisted mostly of families, which is of course wonderful– the show was sold out–but alas the production was ultimately didactic and unrewarding for devotees of romance.


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