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Bouffes du Nord’s The Raven is like a bad acid trip in suburbia. A sky-blue flat with a window onto a residential street sits in the theatre’s crumbling proscenium – the first sign that directors Jan Speckenbach and Charlotte Hellekant aren’t going with a traditional vision of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic poem. Next, the words of the narrator, who spends a tense night tormented by a talking raven as he laments the loss of his love Lenore, are voiced by Hellekant, a mezzo-soprano. Swathed in a yellow dress with her face fixed in an unchanging rictus, she flings herself around the perplexing set, occasionally interacting with a grainy, projected film-version of herself.

Are we to take the singer as some ventriloquist of the narrator? Lenore, perhaps, or the raven? It’s unclear. In fact, the programme notes, she is all three combined in “one solitary being, imprisoned in an interminable dialogue between ego and alter-ego, past and present, hope and doubt”, which makes about as much sense onstage as the Lewis Carroll riddle “why is a raven like a writing desk?”

The poem’s pace, which gathers heart-racingly through Poe’s alliteration and internal rhyme, gives it an already musical quality. Here though, the rhythm is willingly obliterated as Hallekant blurts out the lines at seemingly random intervals in a wildly undulating pitch over Toshio Hosokawa’s low and rumbling score. There’s occasional suspense, with percussive clack-clacking breaking up the foreboding strings, but the piece feels unnecessarily elongated – Poe’s 18 stanzas are stretched into an hour’s composition.

The projection onto the wall, half-way between fake super-8 and Windows 99 screensaver in definition, complicates an already incoherent mise-en-scene. The stage is strewn with empty symbols: a table, a chair, a pile of coat hangers and a legless mannequin. The view out of the window melts into a futuristic cityscape, and then the whole wall dissolves into an unpleasantly layered series of images. There seems little point in listing these since they follow no discernible logic, but at one point Hellekant seems to be moving house, then later we’re in the sea. Her filmed doppleganger, who moves around the wall behind her, does convey something about fractured subjectivity and, at a push, the gothic uncanny, but it’s overdone and when the ghostly figure finally flaps its arms and falls out of the window, a cruel laugh ripples through the audience.

There are occasional moments of clarity and rare union between subject, sound and image that – for a second – seem to make the ordeal worthwhile. A shot of a soaring swarm of birds is hypnotic, and clips from Hitchcock’s The Birds (I’m pretty sure) work nicely with Hellekant’s Tippi Hedren-like hysteria, even if it obviously features seagulls rather than ravens. But for the most part it doesn’t blend, and the range of stated influences makes you wonder why the directors didn’t dispense with the poem altogether; Japanese No Theatre was apparently an inspiration, “no” being the operative word.

I’m willing to be told that I just didn’t ‘get it’, but this is objectively not a generous performance. It feels like something to endure, and despite the thrill of a large, live orchestra, I found myself hoping fervently for it all to finish, as each stanza tantalisingly ended with the same line: “Quoth the raven, ‘nevermore’.” I’m with you, Raven, I thought each time – please, please, nevermore.

The Raven was at Bouffes du Nord in Paris on 10 February. For more information, visit Bouffes du Nord’s website.