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HOUSE OF USHER. Directed by Christopher Weare, with Andrew Laubscher, Mikkie-Dene le Roux and Gideon Lombard. At The Little Theatre until June 16. TERRI DUNBAR-CURRAN reviews
RODERICK’S wide, desperate eyes shine as he clutches the visitor to his chest and dances him around slowly in an awkward shuffling circle. Unseen in a doorway, Madeline watches, nervous excitement evident in her pale features and trembling limbs.
They’ve spent so long, holed up in the crumbling mansion alone, the arrival of Edgar is both thrilling and upsetting.
House of Usher, the Mechanicals’ staging of Graham Weir and Christopher Weare’s reworked version of the Edgar Allan Poe short story The Fall of the House of Usher will be staged at The Little Theatre in Orange Street until June 16.
While it uses the original text as a skeleton and indeed most of Edgar’s (Gideon Lombard) lines are taken directly from Poe, the meat of the story is a new imagining of the reasons the siblings are cooped up alone, slowly succumbing to madness.
In Weare and Weir’s version the pair were once core members of a rock band, House of Usher, and now while away the lonely days reliving memories and longing for the high life once again.
Roderick (Andrew Laubscher) assumes the role of guardian to the fragile Madeline (Mikkie-Dene le Roux) and while he keeps a close eye on his sister he has his own demons to deal with. Fuelled by a dwindling supply of drugs, escalating paranoia and haunted by the echoes of their once great band, Roderick writes to Edgar, imploring him to visit.
Flitting between childlike fantasy and dark depression, the pair are stunned when their friend actually does show up. Edgar’s noire-styled voice-over paints a grim picture. They see in him some form of threat as well as salvation. Edgar, however, struggles to come to terms with what they have become.
While some of the acting is stirring and wonderfully unsettling, the singing often felt out of place. Perhaps because of the small size of the theatre, or simply voices that could do with polishing.
That said, the live band, featuring Fabio Damiani on keyboard, Mia Martens on sax and clarinet, Matthew Weir on rhythm guitar and Matthew Bagley on bass guitar under the direction of Lombard, adds to the ambience and is a welcome addition to the piece.
Their presence and performances were suitably eerie and emotive, adding to the weight of the story.
The use of multimedia to add context and portray memory, flashbacks and different view points is clever, as are the sound effects. The set is simple and effective.
To have tried to recreate the ancient mansion from the tale would have proved excessive, so the use of empty doorframes, an antique chair, chaise longue and rails of vintage clothing coupled with the text is more than adequate.
The wardrobe for this production boats a huge selection of wonderful coats and it’s a delight to see Roderick and Madeline transform as they change in and out of outfits with very little explanation.
It’s a good idea to give Poe’s short story a quick read before you arrive at the theatre, giving yourself a head start on the action and the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the adaptation more.
It’s not a happy play and there’s no cheerful message to send you on your way.
It is rather a portrait of encroaching madness and isolation. So, despite the musical spin, the tale maintains its general Poe-ness – it’s a small glimpse at the desolation of the slowly decaying human condition.
Audience laughter at the strangest moments smacked of either friends of the cast sharing a private joke on opening night, or of discomfort manifesting in nervous laughter.
Either way, it was distracting. As was the abundance of winter ailments with several coughing fits from within the darkened theatre punctuating the performance.
This production won’t appeal to all theatregoers, but if you’re interested in a contemporary twist on an old text and a psychological portrayal of isolation and desperation, then you may enjoy this.
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