The Fall of the House of Usher

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Venue:  Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Dates: 20 to 24 June 2018

Producer: The Belfast Ensemble

It is the unpredictability and fearless theatricality of Conor Mitchell’s work that continue to make it so exhilarating. Here, Edgar Allan Poe’s tale of the supernatural provides a natural springboard into his boundless imagination and artistic risk-taking. This is no mere adaptation of a literary classic but a total stage installation, which transforms Poe’s story of close sibling connections and otherworldly terror into a heavily stylised, multi-layered piece of music theatre.

With his whitened face and stiff bearing, Tony Flynn bears a striking resemblance to Robert Wilson’s Krapp, as he arrives home to be absorbed into Else Borghart and Declan Kelly’s fragmented, abstract set whose lopsided doorways and window frames invoke a once-grand house, now disintegrating as its occupants die away. As his lines are delivered entirely in voice-over, he relies on sharply honed physicality in his embodiment of Roderick Usher, the only son of an only son of an only son, the final survivor of a wealthy but dysfunctional dynasty.

Moving with a balletic grace, Flynn’s gaunt face and glittering eyes bear witness to a lifetime of troubled relationships, most notably with his violent parents and damaged, recently deceased twin sister, played by Abigail McGibbon with a mixture of steel and sweetness.

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Hints of an incestuous relationship are extremely subtle; what emerge most strongly from their shared childhood memories are brief moments of fun, mischief, interdependence and genuine love in the eye of the emotional maelstrom created by their dreadful parents.  Her sudden, unaccountable loss comes as a massive blow to him

Matthew Cavan, arched of back and arch of expression, is the shrewd, all-seeing servant, exuding a suppressed, forbidden love for his master.  His ailing mother previously filled the role of trusted retainer and there is nothing about this doomed household that he does not know.

Against Mitchell’s clashing, powerfully played score and lush text, Simon Bird and Gavin Peden’s lighting and video effects propel the storyline in and out of semi-darkness via a dizzying succession of spooky projections, prismatic flashes and dancing numerical puzzles.

This is theatre straight out of the top drawer of European tradition, being conceived, made and presented right here in Belfast.

 

An edited version of this review was first published by The Stage on 22 June 2018

 

 

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