From the creative minds of Luke Adamson and Dan Bottomley comes a haunting, sombre, gothic tale… with a musical twist.
The House of Usher is a gothic musical thriller (three words you don’t often hear together) based on the short story, The Fall of the House of Usher, written by Edgar Allan Poe. The Narrator of the tale has been invited to visit an old acquaintance of his at his aging estate. His friend, Roderick Usher, explains that he is ill and asks the Narrator to stay with him awhile. During his stay it is clear that everything is not as it seems as the Narrator begins to suspect an evil lurks within the house that is enacting a curse open both Roderick and his desirable sister, Madeline.
This may be the fall in the house of Usher but it is the rise of the actor-musician. A cast of three accompany each other with guitars, clarinets and cellos and come together to create some engrossing and genre-spanning music that pulls you deep into the madness. For madness it is. The show is a somewhat awkward marriage between the truly gothic and the eschewed lunacy of a Tim Burtonesque drug-high, complete with bizarre dream sequences and Roderick Usher as an Ozzy Osborne-type faded rockstar. Despite the occasional drop in energy the storytelling on display tonight is captivating as the actors allow their instruments to construct their own dialogues, creatively concluding and bridging conversations. The capable steering of directors Luke Adamson and Phil Croft allows the show to take a much darker turn during the second half which culminates in a satisfactorily chilling ending.
What it sometimes lacked in jeopardy, however, it certainly made up for with personality. Richard Lounds is a characterful Narrator, willing and able to take the time to engage with the audience and really set the scene. Cameron Harle warms to his role as the titular Roderick Usher, the babblings of an eccentric soon subside to reveal something all the more sinister, the reasoning of a polluted mind. But it is Eloise Kay who introduces some much-needed colour to a gloomy palette, off-setting the mood as Madeline Usher with a period daintiness that remains strong-willed until broken. Although the characters are absorbing and the musicianship excellent, they are sadly let down by some under-energised vocals at times. During the musical numbers there was often a struggle to be heard over their own orchestra which was a shame and occasionally made the intricacies of the plot hard to follow.
But this is undoubtedly Edgar Allan Poe at his most funky and for the most part it is a real joy to watch. A combination of bold performances and imaginative music captures the imagination and stays true to the essence of Poe whilst giving its own unique telling.
The House of Usher is playing The Hope Theatre until November 5. For more information and tickets, see The Hope Theatre Website.