Pros: An excellent pub theatre with perfect sightlines.
Cons: A disappointingly thin script and lack of genuine suspense promised by the London Horror Festival.
With Halloween fast approaching, I was in the mood to see a good chiller and the London Horror Festival seemed to fit the bill. The promotional literature looked really promising; the festival has been scaring the living daylights out of audiences since its inception in 2011 and is a champion of horror theatre, presenting adaptations of literary classics. Step forward Edgar Allen Poe’s narrative poem, “The Raven”; add the lecture style layout of the Old Red Lion Theatre, and we were set for a good evening. Disappointingly, it failed to live up to its billing.
The original poem was first published in 1845, and tells of a talking raven’s visit to a distraught lover, tracing that person’s descent into madness. The lover is lamenting the loss of their love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to torment them with a constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”.
So, the play opens with the obligatory helping of dry ice as Lady Elizabeth Woodruff, played by Sandra Veronica Stanczyk, makes her entrance. Lady Elizabeth assumes the role of grieving lover as she contemplates a lonely existence. The cast is completed by Mitch Howell as Doctor Henry Anderson and Michael Eriera in the role of faithful butler Jameson.
Lady Elizabeth spends the first few minutes of the play circling the floor as she tries to read; but is plagued by a constant tapping on the window. The ponderous ‘tapping’ reference reminded me of Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore’s legendary Greta Garbo sketch; never a good sign when your mind wanders on to a subject that has nothing to do with the play. It is of course the raven, whom she allows to enter as it perches on the aforementioned bust. Lady Elizabeth stares intently at the bust and is gripped by a sense of foreboding as one word echoes over and over again; “Nevermore”. She summons Dr Anderson and Jameson, seeking their counsel; could the raven possibly be her lost love, Lenore?
The play fails to build any real tension as it searched but ultimately failed to find the deeper narrative in Poe’s poem. A later than usual 9.30pm start may have been a tactic designed to crank up the suspense factor. Even though a misty drizzle had descended, the pub seemed only half way through putting its Halloween decorations up; the odd cobweb here and there didn’t quite do it for me.
It might seem of little consequence, but this presentation is part of the London Horror Festival, and it wasn’t remotely scary. The cast performed solidly, but Dr Anderson and Jameson were largely superfluous characters who added little to the piece. Whilst the tale provides an intriguing canvas, I don’t feel it works within the limited confines of the stage.
Based on the Original Works of: Edgar Allen Poe
Adapted and Directed by: Simon James Collier
Producers: The Okai Collier Company & Evcol Entertainment
Booking Until: 5 November 2017 (Etcetera Theatre)
Box Office: 020 7482 4857
Booking Link: https://www.ticketea.co.uk/tickets-theatre-edgar-allan-poes-the-raven-london/