views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Darker Materials
Soho Theatre
15th September 2014


Mikael Oberg

Photography supplied by The Crick Crack Club

Cheap tickets, special restaurant menus, no VAT on clothes - children have never had it so good and they don't even know they're born. Pah! There may be many things we're not entitled to as adults, but The Crick Crack Club firmly believes fairytales shouldn't make it onto that long list. After all, the best of them have rather sinister origins - if you dwell too long on the meaning of a bed time story or nursery rhyme, you'll only end up upsetting yourself. Three blind mice? There's nothing funny about animal cruelty.

In this latest event from said club - the first rule of which is "Do talk about The Crick Crack Club", which organises readings and talks all over London - Scandinavian storyteller Mikael Oberg spins some rather adult yarns. With it being 8pm in Soho and no kids around, there's no need to tone down his tales, the audience are game for something a bit darker.

The first half covers the basic elements: air, earth, fire and water. Oberg holds court on ancient deities, hunters and would-be heroes without holding back on the gruesome. He tells a variety of distinct stories, linked only by their grim nature, with one of the more memorable about two brothers who love to hunt meat. One day the older brother changes into a creature well past redemption and his transformation is described in full gory detail. Never mind yellow snow, don't eat blue fruit.

Oberg's descriptions often elicit groans and gasps, his captive crowd audibly react to his very visceral narrative. There's a lot of drama-building repetition in his stories but he also has a habit of making massive understatements to break this tension and start over. Oberg is wonderfully expressive and he's definitely got a lot of charm, but taking the floor for 90 minutes by himself means the law of diminishing returns does kick in.

Although his techniques are clever, they lose a bit of their punch as time goes on - as soon as we notice himself repeating himself, we're waiting for a key plot development. It just becomes very signposted. The use of bells is strangely hypnotic but at the start of the show he does overdo it, leaving us confused rather than chilled. The cacophony which turns into a light tinkle represents the chaos taking shape, and flows naturally into his first story about a goddess who travelled on the wind. However, we don't know that before he kicks off and given how long it goes on for, I think that would be helpful.

In the second half, Oberg tells us of another hunter, one who followed the man in the moon and ended up having his lungs cut out - a typically violent moment from Oberg's repertoire. As with the other stories, there's plenty of humour, as well as lots of gross out parts. The tone and pacing is relatively even for the most part, with the storyteller drawing in the audience and taking them on one hell of a ride. He's utterly beguiling.

A handful of latecomers and a phone going off were not enough to distract Oberg: he's an absolute professional. This is a man with a seemingly endless supply of stories to tell and nothing's going to stop him from sharing those with us. I enjoyed spending time under his spell, but I can't help but feel Darker Materials doesn't even scratch the surface of what Oberg has to offer.

I'll be honest, I had very little idea of what to expect when stepping foot into the world of The Crick Crack Club, but it's a fascinating place to visit. As the audience shouted out at the beginning (don't worry, you'll get the hang of it), I did worry I'd accidentally wandered into a meeting of some kind of secret society, but those Crick Crackers are a friendly bunch. And if Oberg is any benchmark for the performers that that the team works with, I dare say it is worth talking about.

Darker Materials ran on 15th September 2014 at the Soho Theatre. The Crick Crack Club regularly run storytelling events at The Soho Theatre, Rich Mix and The Forge.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)

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