A Most Outrageous Humbug

Waimapihi Reserve, end of Holloway Road, Aro Valley, Wellington

20/02/2009 - 28/02/2009

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

29/05/2009 - 07/05/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Liquor, Laudanum, Love and Literature 

The surprise winners of ‘Best in Theatre’, and ‘Best of Fringe’ in the New Zealand Fringe Festival in 2008 return to the festival this year with a brand new theatrical endeavour which revels in and reveals the shocking stuff of Edgar Allan Poe’s life and works.

A Most Outrageous Humbug is to be performed at the Waimapihi Reserve at the top of Holloway Road in Aro Valley’s heritage district, from the 20th to 28th of February.

This exciting site-specific production is a fictionalised biography of one of literature’s most moustachioed and mysterious figures. "Aro Valley’s Waimapihi Reserve is one of Wellington’s most under appreciated beauty spots," says Bradley, "it is redolent with atmosphere and provides the perfect backdrop to our show".

"We were initially going to present a show based solely one of Poe’s short stories," says director Charlotte Bradley, "but once we started researching the man himself, we realised his own life was just as macabre and even more ripe with theatrical possibilities".

"He is a fascinating and tragic figure," adds Bradley, "the women in his life – his mother, and many love interests – were constantly dropping dead around him, at age 26 he married his 13 year old cousin, he had powerful and vocal nemeses, and he was increasingly enslaved to drugs and booze. The suffering artist Poe-sonified."

In 2008, this group of young enthusiasts established a reputation for work that is simultaneously intelligent, populist, and unpretentious, delighting both audiences and reviewers alike. "Occasionally a theatre company arrives out of the blue and simply blows you away," said Capital Times theatre reviewer Lynn Freeman, "enter stage left, multi 2008 Fringe Festival award winners, Three Spoon Theatre." 

Its’ stimulating setting, shocking content, and refreshing new talent all combine to make A Most Outrageous Humbug a theatrical experience that is not to be missed! Book now for lust, loss, liquor, literature, love, and laudanum.

A Most Outrageous Humbug 
Feb 20-22, 24-28
Waimapihi Reserve, at the top of Holloway Road, Aro Valley
Tickets: Waged $15, Unwaged $12, Fringe Addict $10
Downstage Box Office. 04 801 6946.
No door sales.

PICK OF THE FRINGE at Downstage:

7.30pm, 29 April – 7 May

Book at Downstage Theatre on
04 801 6946.

Free Post Show TalkBack
Tue 5 May (after the last show)

Ticket Prices (per show)
(General Admission)

Full Price: $25
Students: $20
Fringe Addict Card: $20
Season Ticket for all 3 shows: $60

Charlotte Bradley:  Director and Producer
Kate Clarkin:  Lighting, Producer and Stage Manager
Dawa Devereux:  Costume and Producer
Adam Donald:  David Poe, André Stillwater, The Cloaked Figure, Dr Tarr
Ralph Howell:  Edgar Allan Poe
Alex Lodge:  Virginia "Sissy" Eliza Clemm Poe
Thom McGrath:  Edgar Allan Poe
Adrianne Roberts:  Frances "Fanny" Sargent Osgood and Publicity
Jean Sergent:  Elizabeth Poe, Philathea Ram, Elmira Shelton, Caroline Fether
Hannah Smith:  Assistant Director, Design and Script Coordinator
Tane Upjohn Beatson:  Music Composition and Performance

A scintillating and impassioned homage

Review by Melody Nixon 01st May 2009

A Most Outrageous Humbug is undoubtedly my pick of the Pick of the Fringe.  I was enchanted by both the strong sense of the aesthetic and the flagrant dramatics of its first cut at Waimapihi reserve, and the reworked version for this season’s Pick of the Fringe trilogy maintains a great deal of the original work’s charm and finesse, despite a much more restrictive venue.

In what is presumably a combined effort of set design, Three Spoon Theatre manages to transform Downstage into an atmospheric gothic interior, chaotic and cluttered yet beautiful in a sense, much as we imagine the mind of the protagonist, Edgar Allan Poe.  The ghoulish piles and circling strings of books are lit with a sensitive moodiness by Marcus McShane, and the characters seem to use the pools of light onstage to transport themselves between patches of darkness and light in the story. 

With the exception of some over-zealous shouting from Thomas McGrath narrating as Edgar Allen Poe, the cast seems well adapted to the new venue.  Acting as Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph McCubbin Howell projects clearly into the theatre but is not hurried or strained. His performance benefits from deeper passion, presumably driven by Charlotte Bradley in her precise directing, and this is particularly evident in the hammed up drunkard scenes and in the darker, more drawn-out ending. 

As Virginia "Sissy" Poe, Alex Lodge is endearingly effusive, though her exaggerated quirkiness seems slightly at odds with the overall tone and language of the play.  Although a child she is still educated, "erudite" in fact, and her accent and manner seem unfitted to the time period.

Adam Donald provides a solid performance as the opening father figure from whom flow the terrors of "vices" and destruction that are Poe’s inescapable demons.  Jean Sergent as Poe’s mother and, later, admirer of the fine attire "Almira," is consistent and powerful. Donald and Sergent form a compelling duo, particularly in their Fear and Loathing type scene as government officials for Uncle Sam. 

The addition and repetition of themes and leit motif – the raven, the goblet, the bone – add a polished touch, and the emphasis on raven seems a fitting and accessible enough symbol for those not deeply acquainted with the works of Poe.

This Pick of the Fringe version brought me renewed appreciation for the effort and talent of the mystery musician, Tane Upjohn Beatson, whose role has developed hugely in the reworking. His piano and guitar add nuance and build the kind of subtle tension that makes the whole piece so compelling.  

A Most Outrageous Humbug shows how much energy and care Three Spoon is capable of pouring into a work – and the benefits are truly ours. The show remains every bit a scintillating and believably impassioned homage, and I hope Three Spoon continue to hone the piece (as they say they might in the programme) to bring us more of their absorbing subject matter and talent. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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Memorable theatre on many levels

Review by Lynn Freeman 25th Feb 2009

With the growing number of admirers of the Three Spoon Theatre Company (The Storm, March of the Meeklings) I was looking forward to seeing what this lateral thinking young theatre company would come up with this time. 

A Most Outrageous Humbug is an eerie look at the seemingly cursed life of writer Edgar Allan Poe.  The cast and director devised the play and set it in a setting that’s perfect – isolated from the world, disquieting, seemingly abandoned.  

In just over 70 minutes we traverse Poe’s life, from his bickering actor parents who left him, through death and abandonment, when he was only a few years old, to his cousin/wife who also died young. 

The heavy drinking, tortured Poe (Thom McGrath and Ralph McCubbin Howell) died at forty and this production suggests he was possibly schizophrenic, haunted and also hounded by his bitter rival Rufus Griswold (Ed Watson) – a bit like Salieri in Amadeus. It’s not known what killed Poe but TB killed off Poe’s mother Elizabeth (Jean Sergent), wife Sissy (Alex Lodge), friend Fanny (Adrianne Roberts) and the nasty Rufus too.

The work is ingeniously conceived, admirably performed and leaves the audience feeling most unsettled as they wend their way through the semi-darkness through the reserve.  Memorable theatre on many levels.


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Dichotomies that lurk within us all?

Review by John Smythe 21st Feb 2009

The merciful heavens dropped only a gentle mist upon the opening performance of A Most Outrageous Humbug, adding to the ambience – and to the post-performance laundry challenge, once Edgar Allan Poe had fought himself to death on the muddy lawn – of a most dramatic divertissement.

While the verdant native bush location, outside a rudimentary colonial house in the Waimapihi Reserve, is not essential to Three Spoon Theatre’s tale of America’s first fulltime writer and pioneer of the short story form (Poe), it does subtract us from the modern world, disregarding the halogen lights that illuminate the action along with the odd oil lamp and garden torch.

A piano is tucked in the trees up the bank to our right; a lawn down some steps to our left offers an unusual perspective for entrances, exits and peripheral action; two windows the exterior wall behind the substantive action add interior depth.
The excellent mid-19th century costumes, designed and constructed by Darva Devereaux, complete our transportation to a world apart from our own. And yet, because the actors (also mercifully) eschew phoney American accents in favour of their own voices, our connection with the hearts and minds of the play’s boldly-drawn characters is immediate.

As performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell, and narrated in the author’s inimitable style by Thomas McGrath, the emotional cauldron that generates his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, seethes and churns well within our empathetic range. Discombobulated by being abandoned by his father (a failed actor) and the death from consumption of his mother (a successful actress) when he was only two (hence the fostering Allan family), ridiculed at university, given to drink and womanising, Poe is as flawed a genius – or humbug – as many an artist was and is. 

As Elizabeth Poe, Edgar’s mother, Jean Sergent commences proceedings with a strong rendition of ‘The Music of the Spheres’, accompanied by composer Tane Upjohn Beatson, and a domestic fight with her irrationally jealous husband David (Adam Donald) lays a firm foundation.  

At university, late night debaucheries and cruelties that masquerade as artistic rigour take their toll, not least at the hands of Ed Watson’s malevolent Rufus Wilmot Griswold, abetted by Donald’s foppish André Stillwater, while Adrianne Robert’s compelling Fanny Osgood and Sergent’s mannish Philathea Ram bridle at Poe’s attempts to confine them to delicate femininity.

The quandry of a good matches versus an exciting one is well represented, as is Poe’s unerring capacity to be his own worst enemy. When he seems to be getting his life back on the rails by leaving drink for ink, keeping away from town and living with his cousins, whose young teenage daughter he tutors, we can only be thankful … But her admiration for his writings and crush on him feeds his need to be loved. He proposes (she’s only 13!), she accepts …

Alex Lodge brings a delightfully idiosyncratic comedic touch to the role of Virginia ‘Sissy’ Eliza Clemm Poe, initially engaging us in the full range of unspoken teenage feelings then finding equilibrium as a wife and charming hostess despite Edgar’s continued enslavement to his vices.

What elevates their stylish work to insightful art, however, is the way his personal life and his stories become blended, each feeding of the other until they become indivisible. Is this madness or a manifestation of the dichotomies that lurk within us all?

Once more Three Spoon Theatre – March of the Meeklings; The Storm; The Eiffel Tower Wedding Party – surprise and delight us with their intelligence, depth and theatrical flair.


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