Edinburgh’s Lighthouse Radical Bookshop
Bedtime Stories, as befits the title of the show, took place in the relaxed atmosphere of a cosy nook of one of the most delightfully well-stocked bookshops you can find in these parts. It was hard not to get distracted by the many exciting book spines jostling for your attention. But pay attention we must, because real-live stories were being read to us, possibly for the first time in years. All we needed do was to stare, politely or perhaps gormlessly, or even close our eyes as we allowed ourselves to drift along to Niall Moorjani’s quirky, modern fairytales. Niall, originally from Dundee, has been a tour guide in Scotland for many years, and it showed in his confident and friendly delivery. The structure of the show took the form of a father telling bedtime stories to his son, a form of a classic storytelling device that allowed him to weave all of the stories together into a coherent whole. The entire experience was enhanced by the gentle, soporific sounds of the harp and the guitar, played by Ruth Brown and Anna Marta Sversberga respectively. Niall’s presence was engaging and his flow was flawless, as he guided us through some original fairy tale landscapes. He paused for just one natural intermission while we enjoyed a song from Anna, who accompanied her soothing voice with her guitar.
The stories are not particularly aimed at children, and there weren’t any families in the audience that evening, but none of the stories really verge into territory that’s inappropriate for wee ones. Niall regaled us with stories of lovers, witches and giants; the kind of characters and situations that we all know and love from childhood, but certainly with a modern twist. The Girl and the Dragon centres around our young heroine Elspeth, the only girl in a family of five brothers, on her way to an unexpected victory. With the story’s repeated exhortation to ‘never to apologise for tears’ we can begin to consider a more rounded idea of courage. The theme of a kind, conscious warrior came through in The Tale of the Man Who No one Could Remember, remembering the kindnesses which are rarely marked or celebrated in our society. The story of Bessie the cow was very funny, a tale which grew organically from his journeys up north as a tour guide. He’d become intrigued by a painting on a wall of a building of a cow with only 3 legs, and was determined to find out what on earth it was all about. One day he tracked down the local farmer to get him to spill the beans and give him the back story. The farmer in his thick rural accent did indeed spill the beans, and led us to the predictable but uncomfortable punchline that had everyone laughing.
The stories themselves are not particularly sophisticated or nuanced, but the traditional structure and rhythm of stories helps to make the experience soothing and comforting, as it reminds you of early childhood and having the time to indulge your imagination. This old-fashioned, simple entertainment gave some calm relief from the razzamatazz and the hustle of the festival that was still going on right outside the bookshop. With girl warriors, vegetarian dragons, and queer love stories, Niall is trying to create modern stories that can fire the imaginations of a wide range of people and the bookshop is an obvious venue for the kind of thoughtful, gentle people who would appreciate these kinds of stories. The crowd did seem particularly sweet natured, which you would hope and expect for a show of this nature. The audience is likely a homogenous and insular tribe in its own way, like a typical Brighton crowd of a couple of decades ago. However, all shows have their niche, Bedtime Stories has been consistently packed out, and Brighton was always ahead of its time. Let us welcome another necessary strand of the progressive frontier, and look forward to more stories from Niall in the future.