Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of mystery and imagination remain the crown jewels of both American and Gothic literature. They’re rapturously celebrated in song – and even dance – in glorious style in Argosy Theatre Company’s enormously impressive original new musical.
Star rating: The House Of Edgar ****
Poe’s Last Night **
Venue: theSpace on the Mile (venue 39); Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18)
The House of Edgar is no mere pastiche or revue – it has a compelling plot, courtesy of writer-musical director Thomas F Arnold. Poe’s (real-life) rival, the critic and editor Rufus Griswold, is handed the keys to Poe’s estate after his untimely demise and we are left wondering why Poe would bequeath his inheritance to his nemesis. Griswold insists that Poe was insane and points to his stories and poems as evidence of that.
This startling and beautifully mounted production is intelligently varied in its tone. The Tell-Tale Heart is retold as a witty song while The Raven is set to music accompanied by a fitting ballet vignette. Arnold’s songs are memorably performed by an onstage band and there are commanding performances from the entire cast. Director Beth Cowley superbly manages the production by letting the performances occasionally spill into the auditorium, so making full use of all the space. There’s a canny use of meta-fiction; is Griswold being haunted by Poe or Poe’s stories? After all, they’re merely stories, aren’t they? Then again, isn’t this “just a story”? By the end of the evening the entire audience for this terrifically enjoyable show may well find themselves haunted by Poe’s stories – or, at very least, humming some of the tunes.
David Crawford may still be best known to horror anoraks for a brief part in Dawn Of The Dead (in 1978) but the Pittsburgh native has been touring a version of Poe’s Last Night for years. The title is something of a misnomer. Anyone expecting to have some light cast on the actual cause of Poe’s death – he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore in 1849, taken to hospital and died there before he could become coherent enough to explain his condition – is going to be disappointed. This is essentially a recitation of some of Poe’s best known works framed with a bit of chatty biography. The former is more interesting, although Crawford is convincing and oddly likeable as Poe (Eddie was not always gloomy. It was well known a few drinks lifted his spirits, and he even wrote some humorous pieces).
It’s interesting to hear about Poe’s childhood. He was orphaned at an early age and adopted by a Scottish merchant in Virginia. He spent time as a schoolboy in Irvine, which was where, according to Crawford’s script, he first became fascinated by ravens. However, as good as Crawford is, this is a flat, overlit production, bereft of atmosphere – a modicum of production value would lift it considerably.
Nevertheless, there’s something oddly fitting about the sight of the solitary Edgar, supping sadly from a whisky bottle while the products of his magnificent imagination are being gloriously celebrated less than a mile away that seems oddly appropriate.
The House Of Edgar until 27 August; today 10:10pm. Poe’s Last Night until 28 August; tomorrow 5:10pm.