“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at night, the sailors are howling and laughing. The sailors begin to surround us, and the night sky is so very red. Welcome to Night Vale.”
–Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 36: Missing
I first discovered Welcome to Night Vale just over two years ago. WTNV is a podcast presented in the format of a community radio show for the fictional desert town of Night Vale, a sleepy and mostly cheerful town plagued by mysterious hooded figures, time paradoxes, killer librarians, and a strange glow cloud.
For fans of surreal horror in the same vein as The Twilight Zone and the works of David Lynch, WTNV is a dream come true. Darkly funny and sometimes disarmingly insightful, it has amassed a huge amount of fans, who are attracted to its myriad characters, bizarre plot arcs, unlucky interns, and rich mythos.
Many of these fans, me among them, gathered in our masses (and some even in their costumes) to watch the live version of the show at London’s Union Chapel on September 29. With its dramatic architecture and excellent reverb, the venue is perfect for the show; but I’ll also extend a word of thanks to the brilliant staff at Union Chapel. I recently broke my foot and have been hobbling around everywhere. I called to ask if I could get some help with making sure I could be seated at Ground Level and their access assistance was flawless. Thank you for making my experience so seamless.
My friend and I sat down just as guest musician Jason Webley began his set. Some may know Webley as one half of Evelyn Evelyn, a musical collaboration with Amanda Palmer. Webley is an amazing storyteller. His music sweeps from irreverent comedy to touching reflection, and his energy is a joy to behold.
Next, Meg Bashwiner (pictured above left) takes to the stage to introduce the show, followed by the ultra-talented (and pretty, ahem) Disparition (aka John Bernstein, also pictured above left) who writes the music for the podcast and played live music on the night. Next up was the distinctive voice of Night Vale himself, Cecil Baldwin (pictured above right with writer Joseph Fink), and thus began the show.
I won’t spoil you. Sorry. I know there are plans for the show to be released as a podcast in the future and you really must listen for yourself. What I can say is that the show did not disappoint: two time-warping hours of extremely quotable observations, strangely satisfying plot, guest appearances from a number of familiar voices (including WTNV writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor), suitably uncomfortable audience interaction, and a nice big dose of ‘murder mystery dinner theatre’ – and yes, the popular Weather slot.
The popularity of the show, especially among young adults, is proof of one thing: the world is ready for material which is clever, colours outside the lines of mainstream narrative, and is unapologetically inclusive (the main romantic storyline features two men and is celebrated by fans, and the show never falls into tokenism), and if Night Vale is a taster of things to come, then we are in for a lot of fun.