I'm an experienced corporate communicator and editor with an eye for interesting events and an attachment to my trusty Oxford dictionary.
There's nothing cheery about the works of nineteenth century American author, Edgar Allan Poe. His poems and short stories concentrate on the macabre and often feature themes of death, doom, madness and premature burial. New Farm Nash Theatre's latest production brings to life (and death) one of Poe's most famous and gloomy short stories, The Fall of the House of Usher.
The two faces of horror - Madeline and Roderick Usher from The Fall of The House of Usher - image courtesy of Nash Theatre
I was very pleased to be invited once again to review a Nash Theatre production after thoroughly enjoying their last effort, A Picture of Dorian Gray. Poe's gothic prose however is much heavier-going than the witty wordplay of Oscar Wilde. In The Fall of the House of Usher we meet the brooding Roderick Usher, last male of the line of Usher, in a story narrated by Roderick's unnamed boyhood friend. Roderick's twin sister, Madeline is only briefly mentioned but is the catalyst for the story's terrible climax.
Malcolm Brown has adapted and expanded the short story to provide a framework for a deeper exploration of the background and relationship between Roderick and Madeline. This is imaginitively done by borrowing from many of Poe's other tales of terror, including The Cask of Amontillado and Premature Burial. As a fan of Poe's writings I enjoyed the opportunity to try to match pieces of dialogue with particular Poe stories.
The cast of four are all convincing in their roles, but the stand-out performance for me was Maja Osterman as Madeline Usher. Her subtle portrayal of the doomed sister evoked a real sense of freshness and innocence and was the perfect counterpoint to the overall horror of the story. David Bentley's Roderick Usher was suitably dark, but sometimes too intense. He handled the demands of delivering the bulk of the play's sometimes tricky dialogue very well. Lee Heather gave personality and life to Edgar, Roderick's now-named friend, and Greg Stone was sound in his brief appearances as The Doctor.
The set by Harry Milner, sound design by Dan Lane and lighting design by Phil Carney were all very good and crucial to establishing the play's Gothic tone and atmosphere. Gilly Graham's direction was non-intrusive, as all good direction should be.
While I enjoyed the production I have to say that its dark themes and wordy dialogue would not appeal to everyone. A knowledge and appreciation of Poe's works definitely enhances the experience, but don't be put off if you're not familiar with Poe. Come along and see where the modern psychological horror genre really began.
The venue is Merthyr Uniting Church - 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm. The play runs until 12 November with 7.30 performances on November 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 and a 2pm Matinee on November 6. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 concession and $12 for members and school students.
New Farm Nash Theatre is a very professional community theatre outfit and next year you'll have plenty of opportunities to view their work. They have just released their 2012 program, which includes The Wizard of Oz - the Radio Play, The Merchant of Venice, The Beggar's Opera - their very first musical, and Columbo; Prescription Murder. This play was developed into the opening episode of the highly successful Eighties mystery series starring Peter Falk.
I thought this was a great play and Maja really hit her stride as time went on. I agree that David was a little too intense sometimes, and his pronunciation a bit too over the top but other than that really good.