Even on paper, this 'reconnaissance mission into the no-man’s land where death borders storytelling' has the potential to be either really good or a recipe for self-indulgence; a multimedia combination of live music, film and spoken word on the subject of death. Thankfully, the creative forces involved, while coming from quite distinct disciplines, are very well matched; from 'folk noir' pioneers The Dead Man’s Waltz and 'weird fantasy' author Hal Duncan to animator Mark Weallans, filmmaker Johnny Barrington and visual artists Cat Ingall and Kate McMorrine.
The hook for Story's End is not so much death itself (described in the publicity as 'the one plot twist that none of us can ignore'), but the stories we tell about it, which are designed either to inoculate us against thanatophobia (that's an irrational fear or death, by the way) or, for a whole host of reasons, to actively increase it. Starting with a rapid clip-reel of violent deaths from cinema (which out of context have the air of a Road Runner cartoon), the audience is soon entranced by stark, monochrome images of a wild-haired, skeletal figure walking near-naked (he's wearing boots) through a deserted island landscape. Identified as No Naked Rambler, this figure appears to be a writer; at times we see him scribbling on paper, his hands blackened by ink, then screwing up abandoned page after page of his work until he's almost drowning under the rising paper.
Significantly, this 'writer' is indeed a real writer; none other than award-winning fantasy author and published poet Hal Duncan, who braved a Scottish winter during the filming (yet who now appears fully-clothed). Duncan intermittently steps up to read some of his work while The Dead Man's Waltz provide a nuanced, melancholic musical accompaniment. Both Duncan's stories are framed as modern fairytales, with 'The Toymaker's Grief' in particular a poignant portrait of those whom Death leaves behind. In contrast, 'The Boy Who Loved Death' is a much harsher, satiric rewriting of the high school massacre as mind-game.
Big on atmosphere, Duncan's stories are well balanced by The Dead Man's Waltz' own songs, with their wistful mix of folk ballad tradition and European cabaret; anyone at all familiar with their work should enjoy the fuller, broader soundscape thanks to this show's inclusion of a two-man brass section. On the whole, this is a haunting, somewhat impressionistic work that's strong on sound and image if not direct narrative. It is, however, undoubtedly a memorable way to spend an hour; catch it while you can.