Edgar Allan Poe isn’t usually one for the faint hearted, and as I waited for the double bill of the king of gothic horror’s dark short stories to start on Thursday 8th June 2017, I wondered if it would manage to overshadow the General Election entertainment going on elsewhere.
Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre may have bitten off more than it can chew with this double bill of The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher. Enthusiastic performances, intriguing dance routines and – for once – good lighting, shows that there’s a will, but sadly the performance seems to get lost on the way.
Overpowering music, awkward scene changes and overdone speeches keep this performance firmly in the am-dram realm. Although far from weak and wobbly, the double bill is hardly strong and stable, and makes you wonder if The Okai Collier Company should have kept to the one play.
Proceedings start with The Masque of the Red Death. The red death is tearing through the kingdom and satan-worshipping Prince Prospero has invited a select few to the safety of his palace. Cristinel Hogas as the Prince is all eyes and stumbling lines, and unfortunately he fails to inspire any trepidation or fear in the role.
He’s not the sole offender. There are some hammy moments from his fellow actors, and as a company they fail to build any relationship with the audience. That said, there are some encouraging performances. Both Bethan Maddocks as Duchess Chantellé and Harriet Main as Lady Stephanie are suitably sassy and confident, while Anna Larkin as the court jester brings a light touch to some of the clunkier scene changes.
The second play – The Fall of the House of Usher – is far superior to the first, managing to create a sense of suspense that is lacking in the choppy, and slightly confusing, adaptation of The Masque of the Red Death.
Body contorting Nell Hardy has a powerful presence as the mysteriously sickly Madeleine Usher, capturing some of Poe’s magic that others fail to find. She revels in yoga-inspired expressive dance and seems truly possessed.
Sadly her brother Roderick played by Zachary Elliott-Hatton is slightly less impressive, and while he puts in a good effort he is outshone by Hardy and James McClelland who is impassioned as Philip Winthrop, Madeleine’s thwarted beloved.
A hearty attempt at evoking the horror of Poe, there are some glimmers of gold, but ultimately the night is one of passable light entertainment, not blood-curdling success.
Edgar Allan Poe Double Feature plays Jack Studio Theatre until June 24.