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Welcome To Night Vale – All Hail

Apollo Victoria Theatre, London
1 October 2017

Welcome to Night Vale - All HailFor the last five years, a growing audience of podcast listeners have been being amused, entertained and just plain weirded out by the small-town cosmic absurdism of the mighty Welcome To Night Vale – community radio from a little town somewhere in the desert where weird shit happens on a daily basis. And tonight its creators have brought the mysteries of Night Vale to the London’s Apollo Victoria theatre as they take their show on the road.

Being a big fan of the show, I’m initially a little concerned about how it will translate from being a feast for the ears to being a visual show, but I needn’t have worried; they know exactly what makes their show work and they’re not about to fuck it up.

After a hilarious public safety announcement from Meg Bashnwiner (who also plays Deb the sentient patch of haze and is the voice of the credits) begin with musical guest (or, in Night Vale parlance, “The Weather”- which is how each show’s musical guest is announced, community radio style…) Erin McKeown, a singer-songwriter in the Michelle Shocked / Billy Bragg vein, who gives us a short set of catchy numbers to set the mood.

And then the show begins in earnest – they have wisely chosen to keep to the simplicity of radio, so the whole thing is staged as if it’s the recording of a radio play. Cecil Palmer (Cecil Baldwin) takes centre stage, where he is joined by a succession of characters from the show, including Sheriff Sam (Emma Franklin), Tamika Flynn (Symphony Sanders) the leader of the book-loving feral children and even show co-creator Jeffery Cranor as “Intern Jeffrey Cranor”. Which is a big risk, as any listener to the show will know that interns don’t tend to last too long at Radio Night Vale. And all the while, off to one side we have Disparition, providing a wonderfully spooky live score throughout the show.

Night Vale is a jumble of influences, from HP Lovecraft to 1950s pulp magazines to The X-Files, which somehow manages to coalesce into something vaguely approaching coherence, though its stock-in-trade has always been yanking the logic rug out from under you. Of course, Twin Peaks has always been in Night Vale somewhere, and following this year’s revival of that show there’s an added frisson to the idea of a small radio station in the desert.

Without giving anything away other than what’s on the posters, the current live show All Hail! is largely concerned with long-running show favourite The Glow Cloud, that mysterious phenomenon that hovers over the town and occasionally drops a bunch of dead animals. The stage show follows the format of an episode, but obviously for far longer, and can probably be best described as an uplifting slice of family-friendly cosmic horror which even has a moral and a positive message, though as you’d expect it’s delivered with a nihilistic wink.

As fun as it is to see and hear favourite characters, the live show really doesn’t require any background in Night Vale – you don’t need to have heard the show to enjoy it. Everything that needs to be explained is explained without recourse to info-dumping – the medium of a radio show is perfect, as Cecil introduces each character who comes on the show without it ever seeming intrustive or unnatural.

Whether you’re already a fan or not, I can’t recommend this highly enough. And if you can’t catch the live show, then check out the podcast, and make yourself at home in one of the funniest, spookiest and all-round best towns in the world.

Just don’t go into the dog park.

-Justin Farrington-

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