Reviewed – 31st October 2017
“it felt suitably eerie and atmospheric to come to take our seats in the soundscape of a ferocious storm”
Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven was published in 1845, and still appeals to our taste for the supernatural almost two centuries later. It was a deft piece of programming to show Simon James Collier’s new adaptation at 9.30 on Halloween night, and it felt suitably eerie and atmospheric to come to take our seats in the soundscape of a ferocious storm. The noise of the rain lashing down, interspersed with occasional crashes of thunder, made the little black box of the Etcetera the perfect space for a ghostly tale.
With such obvious attention to atmosphere, it seemed an odd decision to completely abandon the poetry of the original, as the language – so memorably revivified in the now legendary Treehouse of Horror 1990 episode of The Simpsons – is what has allowed the poem its cultural longevity. Indeed, although the play retained the original’s 19th century setting, the language was inconsistent, and modern phrases – ‘that can be sorted’ and ‘banter’ spring to mind – jarred against the prevailing attempt at early Victorian dialogue.
Sandra Veronica Stanczyk provided us with some compelling moments. She held the stage well with the final exposition, her reactions to the raven (invisible to the audience and another example of Sam Glossop’s superb sound design) were convincing in their precision, as were her occasional eruptions of neurotic drunken giggles. Less convincing was the choice to be breathless throughout, which took away from the pathos, and never allowed her performance or the play to lift above melodrama. This feeling was reinforced by the two male characters, whose presence added nothing to Lady Woodruff’s tale, other than an occasional comic moment, each of which had the uncomfortable feeling of perhaps not being intentional.
At the play’s end; as the audience stepped down the stairs into the Halloween night, one gentleman said to his friend, ‘I thought it was going to be closer to the poem’. On balance, that would have been the more satisfyingly spooky choice.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
is at the Etcetera Theatre until 5th November