Edgar Allan Poe double bill, at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre (review)

We were back to the Brockley Jack last week for the press night of the Edgar Allan Poe double bill by Okai Collier Company.  The double bill is comprised of two short stories, each given one act and one cast, but different directors.

The Masque of the Red Death is first, directed by Omar F. Okai and adapted by Simon James Collier.  The studio is so thick with stage smoke that it grips you round the throat.  This gothic tale, written by Poe in 1842, is about Prince Prospero (Cristinel Hogas) who gathers some noble people into his abbey, away from the terrors of a plague called the red death. His jester (Anna Larkin) circles around them, and around us, and the atmosphere is tense. He shows his guests around the different areas of his abbey which are all coloured differently (strong lighting by Ben Jacobs), and encouraging them to enter rooms where they experience shocking sights.  When he gets each person alone, he becomes a cruel and fearsome man, accusing his guests of vices such as infidelity and revealing his belief in Satan. I will not give away the dénouement, but is an eerie story and works well in the dark studio space, with its symbolism of colour including of course the red death.  I was a little distracted by the fluffing of lines by Hogas, however, who was rushing them to the point of incomprehension.

Photographer: Michael Brydon

The Fall of the House of Usher comes after the interval and tells the story of a young man, Winthrop (James McLelland), who tries to enter the remote house where his bride-to-be has been taken captive in order to save her.  Directed by Maud Madlyn, this adaptation (by Adam Dechanel) works really well as its two main parts (not counting the presence of the creepy House itself) are so strong.  Madeline Usher (Nell Hardy) has been kept at the eerie house, but is it against her will? She does not seem to be willing or able to leave it. Is it her twin brother Roderick (Zachary Elliott-Hatton) who is keeping her there, or is it the house which is cursed? Hardy is ghostly pale and, with her white blond lank hair and floppy limbs, she practically embodies the genre of the gothic horror. Roderick speaks of his illness, his hyper-sensitivity to light and sound, and as we hear high-pitched sounds he reels and winces from them. We perceive very little hope for Winthrop, that he might manage to free Madeline from there, indeed we can tell that the end is likely to be very dark indeed.  Hardy is one to watch and really draws the eye, as she contorts and controls her body in unusual, almost freakish ways.

hattydaze rating: ***/*****

We attended the Edgar Allan Poe double bill courtesy of press tickets.  For booking, check the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre website.  The double bill plays until 24th June 2017.

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