Hope Theatre, London – until 5 November 2016
Guest reviewer: Sarah Tinsley
In the words of our narrator; “it’s all rather odd.” We follow him – a portly gentleman of poise and elegance – into the dreary House of Usher, following a strange request from his boyhood friend. Roderick Usher is suffering from some sort of malady, and has called our narrator in to offer some assistance.
Yet when he arrives, he meets Roderick’s sister, the quivering Madeline, and is forced to make a difficult decision. Is Roderick mad, or is there really a curse upon the very stones of the house the Ushers have lived in for generations? The Hope Theatre brings us a virtuoso performance, with each character shifting from performance, then song, to musical accompaniment. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, with Tom Kitney’s lighting design offsetting the mood and drama incredibly well.
To begin with, it’s all rather frivolous. There is interaction with the audience, humour, a rather wry look at the gothic traditions of Poe, with several tongue-in-cheek references and near asides to the audience that get us all in the mood without the show taking itself too seriously.
For those who are unfamiliar with, or lack the taste for, gothic literature, the densely verbose dialogue may seem a little much. No one like Poe to ramble about the foreboding appearance of a tree for a good few paragraphs. The narrator speaks to the audience, leading us through the story, as in the original. While much of it is necessary, in terms of drenching us in the brooding setting, there were times when the use of so much monologue felt a little excessive. In addition, the musical styles of the first act didn’t quite gel, with rather less songs than you would expect for a musical. Having said that, the second half really ticks along, and the music becomes much more like a rock opera, which I think suits the story better.
And yet, there is something happening to us as we’re drawn into the story. With our cynical modern minds, it’s easy to assume that we can’t possibly be phased by the ramblings of a long-dead writer. Perhaps it’s the eerie account of Roderick’s dream, the famous raven that croaks its macabre word, “Nevermore” (I was impressed that Poe found so many words that rhyme with ‘ore’). Whatever it is, something much darker does emerge, and by the end of the play I found myself truly unnerved. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I was looking over my shoulder when I went out into the dark night. That has to be the sign of a successful thriller.
photos (C) Elisha Adamson
As for the actors, there’s a lot to enjoy. From his leather trousers to his carefully manicured nails and silver rings, Roderick is every inch the gothic villain, albeit a little updated. Disturbed, he prowls around the stage with a steely-eyed stare and nervous twitches that make us feel rather sorry for our narrator. While his character acting is fantastic, Cameron Harle doesn’t quite match up vocally to those he shares the stage with. Dab hand at guitar, though.
Flitting in the background is his sister, every inch the gothic woman, wailing her songs in a haunting Kate Bush-esque soprano tremolo, the tremors in her voice matching the frantic state of her actions. Mention must-be made of Eloise Kay’s impressive musical talent – she shifts between a variety of instruments, and her voice is one of the highlights of the performance.
Our narrator is Richard Lounds, who adds a stoic gravity to the proceedings, drawing us into the mysterious world of Usher with his plummy, almost disdaining tone. If even he can be drawn into the terror, then surely it must-be real? It’s a very ambitious performance for such a small space, and leaves you with something to ponder the next time you find yourself in a dark place.
A fun, creepy and disturbing performance that will stay with you in the flickering lights of autumn nights.