Clear White Light: more Poe please

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Few can argue with a directorial debut that sells out its entire run. But in this retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher, I did miss the twists of the original story.

Rightly or wrongly, there’s a lot at stake when new artistic directors make their directorial debuts in their new homes. It sets in people’s minds what kind of direction you intend to take the theatre in. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this can often happen over a year after the new artistic director is chosen, such being the timescale of programming to production. So for the directorial debut of Joe Douglas to come nine months after his appointment was announced is on the early side. Part of the reason for this is that Live was already interested in this play, and Joe was keen to pick it up. And looking at the bigger picture, it couldn’t have been a better choice, because the entire run practically sold out before the run had started.

The big draw to this play was surely the music of Lindisfarne, a north-east folk group that, as we can conclude beyond reasonable doubt, has a very strong local following. But the other draw – and the one that got me interested – was a re-telling of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous tale The Fall of the House of Usher, with the remote house of Roderick and Madeline Usher replaced with the male psychiatric ward of a short-staffed hospital. The nameless narrator is now Alison, a nurse on her first shift. Rod, the cynical senior (and only) nurse on duty takes her under his wing, but it soon transpires his own sister is committed in the same hospital on another ward. It’s such as good set-up, with the location and Alan Hull’s music providing a perfect modern gothic setting fitting of an Allen Poe story. The only trouble is, I’m struggling to identify the Allen Poe story in this. Continue reading

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The House of Usher: promenade Poe

House of Usher poster

The promenade performance of The House of Usher at The Empty Shop could easily have been a disaster. And yet, against these expectations, it came off rather well.

Blog regulars may have noticed I review very few student productions. When I’ve seen good student theatre, it’s been outstanding, but that’s a minority. Okay, I’m a strict marker, I don’t make allowances for not being amateurs, and at festival fringes I expect student theatre to compete with the professionals – but the fact remains that the good pieces of student theatre I see are considerably outnumbered by the mediocre, unfunny and horribly pretentious ones. So the only reason I went to see The House of Usher was curiosity. Ever since The Empty Shop got its souped up license in 2012, it’s hosted a few plays, a lot of it the overspill from the student Assembly Rooms. But so far, they’ve all used a single room as a performance space. With this one using the whole building, I thought I’d check this out.

Had this idea simply been pitched to me, I would have been sceptical. Devised theatre is hard. Student productions very easily get out of their depth. They are usually guaranteed a large appreciative audience from all their friends, but local enthusiasm can be a bad thing. As for a promenade performance as complicated as this one – going straight into the venue without an practice runs with a practice audience is extremely risky. On the whole, there’s so many things waiting to go wrong, the odds were stacked against them. And they, this lot have defied the odds, and put on a very ambitious play that, whilst not perfect, comes off rather well.

Continue reading