My admiration of American horror writer Edgar Allan Poe has led me to some shockingly bad theatrical adaptations of his work. Fortunately, 3Dumb Theatre’s adaptation of The Black Cat bucks this trend in grand style: this is a work of consummate imagination and thrilling theatricality.
Filmed in one take on a handheld phone, the show stars Stephen Smith as a nameless narrator relating how he has ended up in a prison cell. Originally a sweet boy with a love of animals, our anti-hero fell under the spell of alcohol in later life and began taking things out on his wife and pets, particularly a large black cat named Pluto.
Poe’s original short story is faithfully recreated, and Smith’s performance has a wide-eyed intensity that had me gripped throughout. I know the story backwards but was utterly riveted, as if discovering it for the first time. Smith also directs, and succeeds in dramatising Poe’s prose in a way that lifts the text into a varied and compelling journey while his character descends to depths of paranoia, dread and violence.
But this isn’t simply a filmed monologue. The action moves in and out of The Space’s atmospheric building, brilliantly utilising every nook and cranny, and camera moves combine with expert lighting and effects to make this a constantly inventive experience. There’s a particularly vivid house-fire sequence, and at one point the camera takes on the cat’s point of view, which is genuinely creepy.
This sort of gothic melodrama needs to grab hold of the viewer and take them on a psychological rollercoaster, and in this The Black Cat is an absolute triumph. The show blends chilling narrative with technical excellence, and proves that for once the genius of Edgar Allan Poe can find a superbly satisfying match is a piece of contemporary brilliance.
Written by: Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by: Stephen Smith
Produced by: 3Dumb Theatre
The Black Cat is available to watch live 8.30 until 26 March. Booking details can be found at The Space website, link below.