PoeZest has a somewhat quirky humour to it, which takes a little getting used to in the beginning but comes into its own and may be hinted at by the punning title – here is Edgar Allan Poe IV with a zest for the works of his ancestor Edgar Allan Poe, the 19th century author of romantic gothic tales, who might, just might, be haunting him with a view to possess.
Poe IV uses self-deprecating humour and family references, playing with audience expectations, his own nerves and his acting career, and he sets up trademark Poe-esques – lack of sleep, possible hallucinations – while he prepares to read his ancestor’s works. He has a velvet covered section where various items are secreted – papers, make-up, mirror – which looks a little strange, but the rest of the set in this hotel room venue works better: a chair put to good use for items of costume and performance, a small round table with a wineglass of some off-coloured liquid possibly not meant to be wine (make your own mind up, with his help) and a mini chest of papers on another low table, furnishings suitably wooden, with a large book titled ‘Poe’ full of writings also on display.
Poe I is very different – an opinionated, gruff, somewhat excitable man with a huge sense of self and indignities suffered, but also with tart humour, insight and, of course, some incredible lines to perform. The actor has a great command of his voice, changing it suitably not just in accent but also texture for the two different people we observe. His vocal range and control play a large part in bringing such famous works as The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven to life. Use of a handheld script is a little disappointing where it cuts the flow of a piece, but mostly it is handled well as an aide-memoire, the performance having suitable drama and genuine flair. Occasionally the lighting – red and green entering the mix – and sound – dramatic music and effects – crosses into melodrama, but hey: it is Poe. Your own taste will decide whether or not this works for you.
This show does not shed new light on the famous author if you already have some knowledge of his life, though it is informative otherwise without being a lecture. Some of the justifications – Poe wishes to vindicate himself in the face of less positive representations of his life – seem a little thin, but they are not really what matters. It is the entertainment that counts and fine entertainment is delivered where even gestures and manners that seem bizarre – look out for a weird bird-like pose – become understandable. In this way, PoeZest connects excellently with Poe’s writing, where you can be strangely sucked into the bizarre until it all seems to make perfect sense.
15 – 20 August, 12:45 (13:55) @ theSpace @ Jury’s Inn