A True Account of the Regrettable Circumstances and Mysterious Demise of Edgar Allan Poe

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

11/09/2009 - 10/10/2009

Production Details

Murder, Madness and a Stuffed Raven

In 1849, writer, poet and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe disappeared for six days. He was discovered in Baltimore wearing strange clothes, deliriously repeating the name "Reynolds" and died before anyone could discover what had happened to him. In the debut play by Jeff Clark, audiences at The Forge will be given A True Account of the Regrettable Circumstances and Mysterious Demise of Edgar Allan Poe (or simply POE for short).

In POE, the gloomy writer is invited to the house of a mysterious businessman named Reynolds and becomes embroiled in a situation much like one of his own stories: a quirky mix of madness, murder and a talking raven.

Clark – a local improviser, actor, stand-up comedian and writer – was approached by Artistic Director of The Court Theatre Ross Gumbley in late 2007 about writing a play for The Forge. "We kicked a few ideas around and decided to develop a fictional comedy based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe," says Clark.

In reading Poe’s work, however, Clark found that truth was much stranger than fiction. "Poe’s life – and bizarre death – was too great an opportunity to pass up." Thus the writer entered the script as a character and Clark discovered "the unique joys of writing a hypothetical semi-biographical horror-comedy mash-up".

Associate Artistic Director of The Court Lara Macgregor directs POE. "It’s been an absolute pleasure to work on this new and exciting script. We’ve been having far too much fun in the rehearsal room." Patrick Duffy – a Court Jester, costume designer, World of Wearable Art Finalist and self-described "Swiss-army knife of the theatre world" has added "Set Designer" to his resume: building a gothic backdrop filled with unexpected shocks and delights for the audience.

Gregory Cooper returns to Christchurch to play Poe, a role he has enjoyed taking on. "Poe has been described as a depraved drug-addled madman so I’m doing my best to really inhabit the role. Whether this will help me learn my lines is another matter" says Cooper. Tim Bartlett and Elsie Edgerton-Till round out the cast, playing the strange characters Poe encounters.

While Clark has written a number of short works for the stage (as well as a number of television and film projects) this is the writer’s first full-length play. "To be debuting as a playwright at The Forge is a fantastic opportunity and the support I’ve had from The Court has been great. Of course, it’s been an emotional roller-coaster – from the heights of excitement to Poe-like despair – but I’ll be as excited as everyone else to see POE when it opens on 11 September".

A True Account of the Regrettable Circumstances and Mysterious Demise of Edgar Allan Poe
Venue:  The Forge at The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Blvd, The Arts Centre, Christchurch
Performance Dates:  Friday 11 September – Saturday 10 October
Performance times:  6:30pm Monday / Thursday; 8pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays).
Tickets:  Adults $30, Seniors $25, Tertiary Students $20, Group discount (10+) $20, 30U Club $12 (Mon-Wed)
Bookings:  The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz  

For more information, contact Hayley Negus, Promotions Manager:

DDI: (03) 963 0903   Email: promotions@courttheatre.org.nz or visit www.theforge.org.nz

Cast:  Gregory Cooper, Tim Bartlett and Elsie Edgerton-Till

Entertained by Poe’s predicament

Review by Lindsay Clark 12th Sep 2009

When the imagination of well-know improviser turned playwright Jeff Clark connects with the tormented mind of the nineteenth century’s master of macabre poetry – once described as "three fifths genius and two fifths sheer fudge" – expect something out of the ordinary.

Billed as ‘horror-comedy’, the hybrid fabrication entertainingly explains what happened in the mysterious last days of Edgar Allen Poe, found rambling and incoherent, babbling about a ‘Reynolds’ who was never able to be found. Lara Macgregor’s direction settles for fully blown melodrama, wonderfully OTT in all its aspects and as a new work the play will find a certain audience among ghoul lovers. 

If the title is not sufficient primer as to the attitude we need for this experience, the front of house arrangements set us firmly on track. In the tiny foyer of The Forge a solemn and absorbed figure intones about his search for El Dorado and the usher is a bent figure with a lantern, gesturing rather haphazardly to the seating beyond.

Such a beyond! Patrick Duffy’s darkly Gothic set is lit to best spook standards by Brendan Albrey, also responsible for wildly atmospheric sound. Cleverly detailed costume (Emily Thomas) and some stunning props (Julian Southgate) will add to the pleasures in store. 

After a tense five minutes of peering into the intriguing gloom, the audience is starting to titter nervously when suddenly the prone figure of Poe, restrained for his own safety on a hospital bed, is before us and we can breathe again, even laugh at the bumbling treatment he is receiving. It would be fair to record that as the melodramatic flashback unfolds, we laugh far more than we shiver but there are moments when both responses are felt.

For the poet and critic has been lured into the house of the wealthy businessman, Reynolds, to give an opinion about some writing. Matters darken as Poe encounters Olivia, mistress of the house, who claims the work is hers. In his struggles to deal with events, he is counselled and mocked by the sinister raven we have been waiting for.

Sometimes we are in farce sometimes in shock-horror territory. Certainly there is always another twist of the tale coming up and this active element rather than some slow-moving dialogue keeps the audience engaged. Poe’s wonderful melancholy is largely sacrificed, although the writing is shot through with frequent echoes of that murky vision, given ironic force in their new context.

A trio of actors relish the roles if not the accents of nineteenth century Baltimore. As Poe, Greg Cooper reflects his useful Theatresports background to play the supercharged scenes with gusto. Tim Bartlett has a fine old time, first as the abstracted Doctor Moran and then as Hugo Reynolds. As nurse and wife, Elsie Edgerton-Till brings ample talent to the torment. Her final words from ‘A Dream within a Dream’ remind us that illusion may well be our common fate.

Meanwhile, unlike poor Poe, we can be entertained by his predicament.
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