Edgar Allan Poe Double Bill: Brockley Jack Studio Theatre – Review

If American author HP Lovecraft was the undisputed master of the macabre in the early 20th century, then Edgar Allan Poe held the same position the previous century. Small wonder that Poe’s tales caught the imagination of Hollywood and the public at large. However, Poe’s work hasn’t had a direct presence in the theatre. Until now… Using the same actors, but with a different writing and directing team for each tale, the Poe double feature at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre offers an illuminating take on Gothic fiction in the 21st century.

Bethan Maddocks and Nell Hardy / All photos © Michael Brydon

Adapted by Simon James Collier and directed by Omar F. Okai, The Masque Of The Red Death has a relevance to today that Poe himself did not foresee. A plague known as the Red Death ravages the land, much like the Black Death that visited centuries before. Accepting Lord Prospero’s invitation of sanctuary, the aristocracy flock to his abode. It’s soon apparent that they all know each other and aware of each other’s secrets. The one thing they weren’t banking on, however, was that Prospero’s immunity to the Red Death is a result of his allegiance to the Devil – and something they would have to do too if they want to stay alive…

Anna Larkin as the Jester

This adaptation follows the original source closely, but there are plenty of flourishes that stand out and draw our attention to certain aspects of the story. The choreography of the masque itself with its concentric formations, alludes to the Ring a Ring o’ Roses nursery rhyme that’s associated with the Black Plague. Sam Glossop’s sound design in the latter half of the play also comes to the fore, suitably unnerving. With regards to the cast, Anna Larkin’s Jester walks the fine line between being mischievious and menacing, while Nell Hardy’s Duchess Bolleville is alarming when she visits the forbidden ‘black’ room…

While the ambience of The Masque is suitably tense, the tale itself does have allegorical overtones. The choice given to the visitors in the climate of fear to side with the ‘inhuman’, even though deep down they know it’s wrong is very relevant today. That and the fact the press night of the show took place on the evening of the most recent election…

The second half of the evening features The Fall of the House of Usher. Adapted by Adam Dechanel and directed by Maud Madlyn, we meet Winthrop (James McClelland) who is looking for his financée Madeline Usher (Nell Hardy) at her ancestral home. Bristol (Bethan Maddocks) tries to disuade him from persuing this any further, but Winthrop is resolute and won’t take no for an answer. Madeline’s brother Roderick, however, is just as resolute and he will not let his sister leave – for any man or reason.

Zachary Elliott-Hatton as Roderick

The theme of living with the consequences of one’s forebears runs through the play, as does the acceptance (or rejection) of this fate. The Usher ancestors are very much present in the thoughts and surroundings, their legacy lingering in the air. As for Roderick, Zachary Elliott-Hatton lends him a nosferatu-esque quality, fragile and dangerous at the same time. In many ways he is truly one of the ‘living dead’, with nothing left to live for and contrary to his protestations, no thought to the consequences of his actions…

© Michael Davis 2017

The Edgar Allan Poe Double Feature runs at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 24th June 2017.


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