Midnight at the Rue Morgue: The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe

Fri 2nd – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Natasha Hyman

at 09:47 on 6th Aug 2013

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About ten minutes into ‘Midnight at the Rue Morgue’ I realised that interactive promenade theatre is probably the worst style of show to be a reviewer at. Especially in a bright red EFR jumper. At one point my fellow reviewer was shouted at by an actor ‘I DON’T LIKE YOU!’ and I was escorted, massaged, and given a suspiciously lumpy looking drink. Generally, I felt I was in the way, left out of the loop of the actors’ strange concept.

As we entered we were informed that ‘there’s something about Baltimore’, I then saw that the floor was strewn with newspaper print-outs ‘Ah, this will tell me about what it is about Baltimore’ I thought. Just as I began to read, however, another actor in a lab coat started talking about phrenology: to read or to listen?! This battle of the senses was then added to by another actor deciding it was a good time to start wailing. Just as I thought I might be able to engage with the labcoat-toting actor, a recording started up!

The group were lucky in that SpaceCabaret, with its many different levels and informal setting, is ideal for promenade theatre. However the company made poor use of it, often standing in the corners where the audience had to shoulder and crane to get a glimpse of the action. Another problem was that we weren’t guided enough. One actor, Claire Rammelkamp, was particularly adept at engaging the audience. However, this meant that the rest of us at the back were unable to see what she was doing. Eventually, tired of standing and being picked on, the audience grouped in the middle of the space, chatting to each other and ruining the illusion, whilst the actors stood in their corners wailing to themselves.

Alex Wilson was particularly good as the creepy clown, carrying a smiling puppet. (Although anyone dressed as a clown and carrying a puppet would be terrifying in my eyes). He had a few interesting moments; for example, where he brought in an audience member and instructed them to demonstrate hanging the puppet. He then proceeded to demonstrate hanging himself and collapsed to the floor, the audience member left alone, unsure of what to do.

At other times, the actors acknowledged us during their mad ramblings, making us feel like imaginings in their madness. There is much more scope in this style of theatre to explore the role of the audience in relation to the actors, a territory which was only touched upon. This production needs solid grounding: a consistent storyline and some sort of development would be a good place to start.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 09:50 on 6th Aug 2013

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Once past the doors of the theSpaceCaberet, we are ushered into a gothic space of erratic doctors, creepy dolls, and Tarot card readers. The flyers strewn across the floor are cleverly designed as broadsheet newpapers, which contain the essential clues for working out how the characters we meet are linked to the work of Edgar Allen Poe. However, it’s almost impossible to gather this important information amidst all the shrieking and writhing. And boy is there a lot of writhing.

Tara Isabella Burton’s decision to develop a piece of improvised immersive theatre was incredibly brave, and these performers never lacked energy or commitment to their roles, particularly in the contorted physicality they all seemed to require. Understandably, the actors revelled in the chance to indulge in Gothic melodrama, always overplayed, particularly in the case of Alice Young’s sexualised bride. Alex Wilson’s creepy ventriloquist was the strongest of the pack. His improvisation was fluid and he did a remarkable job of engaging in audience interaction without resorting to screaming at them.

Claire Rammelkamp’s Tarot act drew the crowds with a clever and well-timed climax, but the fun died off when the spasms and shrieks recommenced. Filip Ferdinand Falk Hartelius as a sinister and erratic Victorian doctor hell-bent on ‘curing’ women had some issues with diction, particularly obvious in his opening lecture on phrenology, where his improvisation seemed halting.

My overriding impression of Edgar Allan Poe from this performance is that he is responsible for all the clichés of the horror genre – ‘Midnight at the Rue Morgue’ was flooded with bones, blood, coffins, creepy dolls, white face makeup, crazed brides and writhing. Writhing on floors, writhing on tables, writhing in cloaks, writhing erotically, writhing in pain, writhing as cats, but behind all the writhing, the actual plot references were hard to grasp.

The cast could do with going back and working to emphasise each character’s story; the flyers aren’t enough. I couldn’t understand why Rosie Polya’s hypnotist seemed to be learning a dance routine from Alice Young, until another audience member explained that they were Siamese twins, but I still can’t find any explanation for why Polya spent so much of the show meowing.

The muddle of literary references, the polyphony of immersive experiences, and the veiled implications about the Victorian treatment of women, indicates that the show is trying to do too much. The actors showed immense commitment to their roles, but this was a show more fun to be in than to be watching. Unless you want a masterclass in writhing.

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