Online & touring – at Southwark Playhouse, London on 31 October 2021
Stephen Smith of Threedumb Theatre is something of a Gothic horror aficionado, especially when it comes to the works of Edgar Allan Poe. As lockdown first took hold, he livestreamed a version of The Tell Tale Heart and earlier this year performed an exceptionally good version of The Black Cat using multiple locations within a converted church – The Space in London’s Docklands – to livestream a truly innovative piece.
Smith returned to the same venue and added two new pieces to the mix to create One Man Poe, a tour de force showcase both for himself and the writer he admires. This quartet of short stories have all been converted into monologues using the original words and without textual editing. This alone makes it an outstanding feat of memory. I’ve just done a word count and it is in excess of 13,000; to put that in context Hamlet (the character) has just shy of 12,000.
Smith barely falters throughout the two hours it takes to narrate the tales and, of course, he isn’t just simply narrating but embodying four different characters with the same verve and artistry as filmic hero Lon Chaney – though with considerably less reliance on makeup.
Part One is a reworking of The Tell Tale-Heart set in an insane asylum where a psychotic inmate tries to justify to us/an orderly (Jack Hesketh)/himself why he wantonly disposed of an old man for the crime of possessing what Poe calls “a vulture eye”. It’s a chilling beginning as Smith appears in a set of restraints which limit his movement leaving him to tell the story with just his voice and face.
As I’d already seen this piece as Threedumb’s first foray into Poeland last year I thought this might not hold my attention, but not a bit of it. The reframing and development that has occurred in the interim have given it extra weight and depth and with the camera able to get up close the madness in the character’s eyes becomes all too real.
Part Two is one of the new pieces, The Pit And The Pendulum. I thought I knew this story of a Spanish Inquisiton prisoner being tortured well enough but had forgotten quite how masterfully Poe ramps up the horror of the dark dungeon and the terror of the descending blade. This is made all the more vivid by Joseph Furey’s sound design, which is enough to drive the listener to distraction, never mind the central character. Smith creates a persona full of desperation and fully explores the psychological effects of unremitting torture which can only make us think of others still suffering under oppressive regimes.
Stephen Smith of Threedumb Theatre is something of a Gothic horror aficionado, especially when it comes to the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
‘#EdgarAllanPoe’s original texts are honoured in a solo tour de force’ performed by @ssmithactor: @JohnChapman398 tunes in to @3dumbtheatre’s #OneManPoe, streamed from @SpaceArtsCentre. The live show spends #Halloween at @swkplay. #theatrereviews