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The Pit and the Pendulum, Omnibus Theatre – Review

Pros: The original twist of a Poe horror classic.

Cons: Too much focus on how the play is delivered (headphones, projections) and less on the content of the play itself, which feels overloaded.

Pros: The original twist of a Poe horror classic. Cons: Too much focus on how the play is delivered (headphones, projections) and less on the content of the play itself, which feels overloaded. There are many things in common between the Spanish Inquisition and the Guidance Patrol of Iran. Both were created to maintain religious orthodoxy and police people’s morals. Neither was particularly keen on women. Edgar Allan Poe’s short horror story The Pit and the Pendulum recreates the torments of a prisoner during the Spanish Inquisition. In this production by Creation Theatre, the story has been transported to present-day…

Summary

Rating

Good

A curious adaptation of a classic story which feels slightly affected despite of the interesting and compelling topic.

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There are many things in common between the Spanish Inquisition and the Guidance Patrol of Iran. Both were created to maintain religious orthodoxy and police people’s morals. Neither was particularly keen on women.

Edgar Allan Poe’s short horror story The Pit and the Pendulum recreates the torments of a prisoner during the Spanish Inquisition. In this production by Creation Theatre, the story has been transported to present-day Iran, and the protagonist is a nameless Persian woman (played by Afsaneh Dehrouyeh) who’s sent to prison for her feminist activism.

During the hour-long play, the woman tells us how her university teachers vilified her for asking to have women authors in the class syllabus or for believing that the hijab “should be a symbol of faith, not oppression”. In the background we have Poe’s baroque voice (Nicholas Osmond), who tells in detail the more grotesque aspects of the story.

Before the beginning of the show, the audience is given headphones that will be worn during the whole performance. This is explained in the programme as being part of “a fully immersive experience like no other” to explore sensory deprivation and isolation.

Personally I don’t think the headphones – even if they were cool and wireless – added anything in particular to the play or its experience. They didn’t help imagine the unimaginable torture experienced by a political prisoner. The same sounds that we heard through them could have been played from the main stage and nothing would have changed – which is maybe the weakness of the play: it tries to overachieve by throwing in too many elements, both in the script and the set, and the result is overloaded.

I found interesting the repeated remarks of Poe as a male white colonial (“beautiful member of the colonial people”) and the phallic references found on The Pit and the Pendulum – too obvious to ignore, maybe. However, rather than coming from the prisoner herself, they sounded to me as an unconscious projection of cultural guilt from the writer – a British white male – and because of this, I found them affected and artificial.

Christopher York has done an interesting adaptation of a horror classic. The choice of present-day Iran and the anonymous woman political prisoner are definitely apt and relevant. But I was left lukewarm after the play finished, feeling that there had been more emphasis on how the play was delivered than on the content itself.

Author: Christopher York, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum
Director: Christopher York
Producer: Creation Theatre
Box Office: 020 7498 4699
Booking Link: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/the-pit-and-the-pendulum/
Booking Until: 24th November 2018

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