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Gothic Season at the Hope Theatre: The House of Usher

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 24th Oct 2016 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin


What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? 

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is one of Edgar Allan Poe's most popular short stories and has been adapted countless times, by directors as diverse as Roger Corman and surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer - it even became part of a concept album by The Alan Parsons Project called "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" in the 1970s, which is, in my opinion, one of the best musical adaptations. Luke Adamson and Daniel Bottomley were also drawn to the atmospheric gothic tale and decided to create a musical version of the story. 

An unnamed narrator (Richard Lounds) visits his boyhood friend Roderick Usher (Cameron Harle), who resides in a mysterious and gloomy house together with his sister Madeline (Eloise Kay). Having received a letter from Roderick, informing him that his friend was feeling physically and emotionally ill, the narrator felt it his duty to rush to his friend. Roderick is pale and suffers from a heightened sensitivity of the senses. He seems afraid of his own house, still he won't let his sister leave the cursed place. The narrator spends several days trying to cheer up Roderick, listening to him play the guitar and reading him his favourite stories, but all his attempts fail, and he comes to realise that the house might be alive after all and out to destroy Roderick and his sister.

The performance takes place in the round with the actors, in period costumes, and the pianist / keyboarder, respectively, positioned at the four corners of the stage as the show begins. Roderick and Madeline have their distinctive spaces defining their characters (design by Verity Johnson): Roderick's is cluttered with books and musical instruments, Madeline's is dominated by a clinging vine which adds to the feeling of claustrophobia that seems to stifle her. The three actors also serve as the orchestra which is quite a feat considering that they sing and act in the show - with Richard Lounds playing the cello, Eloise Kay the clarinet, and Cameron Harle as Roderick - naturally - the guitar.

Luke Adamson and Phil Croft's production benefits from a dedicated cast, most of all Richard Lounds who does his best to create a gothic atmosphere, assisted by unsettling sound effects, but the musical numbers by Dan Bottomley fail to convey any sense of mystery or imagination - with the sole exception of "The Raven". True, I know the story well but I was not scared even once, despite the best efforts of the hard working actors. The music is too pleasant to be unsettling in any way. There is some drama due to the possessive relationship between Roderick and his twin sister, which is played by Cameron Harle and Eloise Kay with threatening intensity, yet the pace of the production is too slow and lacks suspense.

Richard Lounds, who has the hardest task as the unnamed narrator, has great audience rapport and kept my attention throughout the performance. Eloise Kay has a beautiful singing voice and gives a good performance as the fragile Madeline. Cameron Harle, dressed in cool black leather, convincingly switches between irrational exuberance and suicidal melancholy.   

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 5th November 2016 at the Hope Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval.


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 1 year ago
    Thanks, Carolin. This sounds like a well presented piece.
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