In a Christmassy room, we're encouraged to write a poem, leave a message, even recount a particular tale of which a relative may have been fond. There's a song and more praise for the ancient art of storytelling and we're ushered into a bleak (and cold) room in which the company lie on the floor with musical instruments nearby. Silhouettes in the windows portend tales of gravediggers, of ravens and of highwaymen - we settle and listen as the first tale unfolds.
Little Jade Productions have constructed an eclectic evening of song, movement and speech shot through with a Christmas chill. There's old favourites like Alfred Noyes' The Highwayman and Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven and more modern fare like Angela Carter's brutal, yet beautiful, Tiger's Bride. There's grim and Grimm, even a traditional Japanese folk tale and, a highlight for me, a gentle and haunting version of Florence and The Machine's My Boy Builds Coffins.
In the eerie quiet, one's attention doesn't waver from the performances (except, and not for the first time, to marvel at the prodigious feats of memory such tale-telling requires), With no interval and barely a break between stories and songs, the narratives do pile up a little and I would have appreciated a little more time to savour one scene before the next started.
That said, Jade Alexander's five performers have a real rapport and connect wonderfully well with the audience in an intimate setting. Though many sat on the room's perimeter will know some of the stories and songs, theatre transforms them into something elemental, something ancient, something visceral. As midwinter beckons and bites, such gatherings remind us of the human need at this time of year to find comfort in society and in the stories we share.
Ex Libris Macabre continues at Marylebone Gardens until 22 December.