FRINGE REVIEW – 21st-Century Poe, Paradise in the Vault


By Danielle Farrow

Scottish storyteller and playwright Marty Ross presents a trilogy of Edgar Allan Poe tales for the Fringe, adapted to contemporary life, with at least two set in Glasgow. These play on different dates – here reviewed is ‘Ligeia – (Not) a Love Song’.

This modern telling is imbued with Poe elements, in names, references, classical allusions and the plot of the story, revolving around the loss of a strangely attractive lover, who was much fascinated by death and the occult, and how this comes to affect the present and a new lover. Changes are rooted in the original and intriguing – Ligeia is now a strange post-punk cult icon, the narrator a band member turned music teacher and the new wife a student with whom he has a one-night stand. The script is full of fine phrases, ‘the prosity of Poe’ as someone present aptly said, and Ross performs with fierce energy and command of the language.

Music is used sparingly, but to effect and, unsurprisingly, the predominant colour is black: the narrator’s t-shirt and velvet suit and a lace shawl for depicting Ligeia, draped over the sole set piece, a chair. There is a singular splash of white in a larger lace piece that serves as bedding and white features in the climax, though the effect is perhaps not what is wished, being more incongruous than chilling. This is it for staging, and it is the storytelling that must carry the piece – as it should be for such a show.

Ross has a strong presence and voice, and he uses detailed gesture to fine affect; his stamina, too, is to be admired, and his clarity, energy and power impressive. This could create a truly excellent production, if only he were to adapt his projection to the intimate space of his venue and – above all – modulate his voice with softer tones and lighter notes, escaping his consistently driven delivery. Oh, to be invited into this world rather than being forcibly vocally kept out of it! This lack of variation in storytelling, reflected in the voice of Ligeia – whose accent also changed confusingly – fills the hour of performance with a similar sound throughout and really needs dedicated work to allow all the other fine elements to shine as they should.

The script, Ross’ understanding of it, and the power that is in the performance are deserving of 3 stars at least, but there are only moments of rising tension and of chilling drama because the delivery does not vary enough, keeping its audience at an audio distance which prevents emotional intimacy. For anything based on Poe’s works, there must be chills, thrills and dramatic horror, none of which can be achieved without a mastery of atmosphere, which absolutely necessitates variation in tone and delivery. Achieve this, Mr Ross, and ‘Ligeia – (Not) a Love Song’ will be worth the utmost attention!

5-11 August, 17:45 (18:45) @ Paradise in the Vault

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