The Tell-Tale Heart
Grotesque musical horror story
This article is from 2008.
There a pretty solid precedent for Poe's celebrated story of dark grotesquery adapted to theatre in the shape of Steven Berkoff's version a generation ago. But in this piece, there's less of the ghastly, uncomfortable humour that so marked out the earlier version. Instead, although often rather arch in its style, as you might expect, Barry Kosky's piece for Malthouse Melbourne at the EIF pulls back from the edge of humour, however camp it sometimes seems. What happens instead in this piece, which features Martin Neidermair's energetic, truculent performance, accompanied on piano by Kosky himself, is a grim examination of a mind in deep disturbance, which is led, at first by caprice, to murder and dismemberment.
What's so peculiar is the way in which the music is reoriented in meaning and feel by the bizarre and frightening antics of the performer. 'I Could Have Danced All Night' from My Fair Lady, becomes less a song of intoxicated joy than a compelling narrative of maladjustment as, from pitch darkness a spotlight picks out our menacing, grinning narrator at the up. So too, a series of classical pieces lose their meaning and become incorporated into a madman's world view.
Anna Tregloan's design, a single wooden staircase, is cleverly used by the performer as he perambulates up and down with a series of grotesque body contortions. The physical dynamics are admirably sophisticated, while Poe's words are cannily delivered by the twitching, staring Neidermair. But I wonder whether a little too much distance is made between the narrator's condition of mind and our own, for here, the feel of detachment from this frightening man prevents us from seeing the possibility of madness in ourselves that Poe's original tale seems to suggest. All the same, this is an eerily atmospheric night out, with some bizarre but compelling singing to top it off.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, until 11 Aug, 2.30pm, £10-£25.