Written in the 1840’s by Edgar Allan Poe, this quartet of short stories and a poem show off to best effect Poe’s interest in the dark side of human nature. Many writers have been inspired by the works of Poe, who pioneered the genre of ‘horror’, and his work is still as popular today. Artistic Director of Threedumb Theatre, Stephen Smith has taken his passion for gothic horror and the original works of Poe and created a one-person show using an unknown narrator to deliver these authentic Poe tales. Smith is directing and performing all the roles himself.
First off is ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, a disturbing look inside the mind of an unnamed narrator who is believed to be insane, but he will try to convince the audience that he is sane, by describing the events that led up to a brutal murder that he has committed. The tale begins with Smith being led in by Jack Hesketh in his role as a doctor. Smith’s character is restrained in a straight jacket perched on a tall stool whilst the doctor listens to him recounting his experience. Trying to assure us that he is sane by convincing us that his dislike of a man justifies him wanting to kill him, does not win my vote in this sanity talent show.
Next up, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, sees Smith in prisoners’ garb with his hands above his head as though manacled. He is sentenced to a punishment for an unknown crime and led away into a dark cell. After finding his way around the cell, he has several challenges to overcome, and these are conveyed by dialogue by Smith with only lighting to assist him to create the atmosphere. At some points, it almost feels as though Poe is in the room, watching over the performance to see that his story is being told faithfully. He needn’t worry, Smith inhabits this work as though it were a second skin.
For me, the most unnerving of the four pieces was ‘The Black Cat’. This dark tale of a man deranged by alcoholism and consumed by hatred for his cat, who was once loved dearly by himself and his wife. The brutality of this piece stems from the fact that his love, tainted now by hatred, has taken away his self-control, and he lashes out at what were once his dear animals, but then takes this still further…
The final piece is one of Poe’s most well-known, ‘The Raven’. Smith portrays an elderly man who let’s a raven into his room, who listens to his reminiscences about his lost love Lenore.
Poe’s descriptive writing and the almost Shakespearean delivery by Smith, feeds off the uneasiness of the viewer and the lighting designed by Eddie Stephens enhances an already spine-chilling atmosphere.
Smith’s commitment to Poe’s work is evident in his perfect dialogue and his remarkably controlled performance. Acting and directing a piece does not always work, but in this case, Smith seems to have known exactly what he wanted to achieve, and as a viewer, he has created a terrifying horror experience that you will struggle to beat.
I watched this at home, and it does make the perfect ‘at home horror theatrical experience’. Making this available to watch on demand, would be a good idea for Halloween. The final live performance is at The Space at 2pm on the 23rd October, follow this link to book tickets, you would be mad to miss it! https://space.org.uk/event/one-man-poe/
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 21st October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★