One Man Poe
Reviewed – 19th October 2021
“One Man Poe’s strong points are definitely the sounds—not just Smith’s flexible voice skills, but also Joseph Furey’s music and sound design”
The London Horror Festival is once again bringing chills and thrills across the metropolitan area, even if the pandemic means a pared down festival this year. One Man Poe, performed by Stephen Smith at the suitably spooky Space in London’s East End, is one of several offerings for the 2021 Halloween season. It’s hard to find a writer more accomplished in the horror genre than Edgar Allan Poe—and there’s a reason why this American nineteenth century writer is still widely read and enjoyed today, despite the archaic language, and the dictionary workout his words will give you. Based on three of Poe’s best known stories, and one very well known poem, One Man Poe is a no-brainer of a choice for the Festival by Smith and the Threedumb Theatre Company.
Nevertheless, One Man Poe is a bit of a misnomer. This piece, clocking in at one hundred and forty minutes (including the interval) is not so much a play, as a staged performance of Poe’s stories by Smith. And while Smith’s is the only voice on stage throughout the show, he is not always the only person there. Assisted by Jack Hesketh as a doctor in one story, and as a policeman in another, Smith performs The Tell-Tale Heart; The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Black Cat. The Raven, Poe’s signature poem, is the final piece that sets the seal on an evening of blood chilling revelations.
Smith does have a great voice for these kind of stories, and his presentation is appropriate, if verging on the melodramatic. But then, the Victorians did appreciate a good melodrama. Smith’s diction is clear and measured, allowing the audience to relish Poe’s language. It’s overkill, then, to project the words on the back of the stage, above the actor’s head, for the whole performance. It is a distraction the audience could do without, and dispensing with them might also allow the lighting designer (Eddie Stephens) to shine a bit more light on the proceedings on stage without obscuring the text on the wall. One Man Poe’s strong points are definitely the sounds—not just Smith’s flexible voice skills, but also Joseph Furey’s music and sound design. Kudos also to dramaturgs Amber Buttery, Amy Roberts, Jonah York and Rebecca Phythian for the thoughtful support and programme notes. But the overall effect of One Man Poe is to make one wonder if the show would not be more powerful if enjoyed at home with the lights off and the amplifiers on.
Fortunately for us, there is one livestream performance on offer, and perhaps there will be more. One Man Poe will be livestreamed on October 21st. Just the ticket for a horrifying evening at home with the family. Or, for the truly brave among you, alone.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Alya Sayer
One Man Poe
The Space until 23rd October as part of London Horror Festival 2021
More shows reviewed this month: