Live podcast review: Welcome to Night Vale

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A few years back the weirdly wonderful podcast Welcome to Night Vale came to public attention and climbed to the top of the podcast charts. Now in their fourth year of production, Night Vale Presents has come a long way; they currently produce four uniquely interesting and diverse podcasts, have published a bestselling novel, as well as two script books. So naturally, expectations were high with their third UK and Europe tour.

For those unfamiliar, Welcome to Night Vale, is a podcast of a “friendly desert community”, in which conspiracy theories are true and weird events are natural parts of life. All of this is narrated by Cecil Palmer, the host of Night Vale Community Radio, the source of all news in Night Vale.

Arriving at the venue half an hour before doors opened the queue was, of course, ginormous. A line of enthusiastic listeners stretched around the building. This wasn’t surprising, their fanbase is comprised of the ever enthusiastic tumblr users, however what was truly noteworthy was the effort and dedication of the fans to show their love for the show. While a standard show may see some T-Shirts, merchandise and maybe even a sign, Night Vale fans seemed to go one step further, with a plethora of them wearing homemade costumes, from five headed dragons to mighty glow clouds (I will confess I was one of those people, dressed as my favourite radio host, Cecil).  Impressive for a purely audio based show, with no official visuals for most of the characters.

The Albert Hall was truly beautiful. I couldn’t have imagined a better stage for a tour entitled ‘Ghost Stories’; the gothic architecture and the dim lighting only seemed to add to the atmosphere. Enter Eliza Rickman, dressed in a Georgian dress and hot pants combo. I know, it wouldn’t be my first outfit choice either, but somehow it worked. Her performance was captivating and unique, though admittedly my enjoyment of it was obscured by my seating position. (Tip: if you’re planning to review a show try not to sit off to the side, a speaker blocked my view of the right side of the stage.)

After a half an hour set from Eliza Rickman, it was time for Cecil Baldwin, “The Voice of Night Vale” himself, to take the stage. His performance was impressive to say the least, carrying the show through over an hours’ worth of material practically alone. Though this did not detract in any way from the brilliance of the guest stars; Meg Bashwiner was hilarious both as The Proverb Lady and Deb, a sentient patch of haze, and Kate Jones’s Michelle Nguyen perfectly parodied hipster culture. The ending was, without spoiling anything, possibly one of the most open and emotionally resonating moments in Night Vale’s history. The room was silent. You could hear barely a breath from anyone.

This is obviously a glowing review – I’m a huge fan of the show, and I have been for years. I’ve been to all three Europe tours in Manchester and I listen to every episode as soon as I can, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see the flaws. After the performance my friend turned to me and said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I wish it was weirder”, and ultimately I have no choice but to agree; while, yes, the ending was deeply moving and thought-provoking, the core foundation of Night Vale has always been its weirdness, and in some ways the ending appeared to leave this oddity behind in favour of realism, to provoke emotional response.

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