The Fall of the House of Usher (2006)
Directed by Mark Davies
Performances: Wednesday 18th – Sat 21th October 2006, Prompt Corner
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) has been credited by many as the inventor of the detective story, by others as a forerunner to modern-day science-fiction. Though Poe was primarily a poet, he also wrote short stories about the darker side of life, and has influenced many – from the gothic Victorian horror stories to Vincent Price movies of the 1960’s, and even in an episode of the Simpsons. He died tragically at the age of 40, a few days after having been found in a delirious and semi-conscious state. No autopsy was performed, and – perhaps fittingly - the reasons behind his death remain a mystery to this day… The Fall of the House of Usher is one of his most famous tales, here adapted for the stage….
Ethan Powell receives a mysterious letter from a very ill old school friend, Roderick Usher. On arrival, the illness Usher tells of turns out to be a gradual state of mental destruction, in his madness believing the House is a living and breathing entity. Later he learns that Usher’s sister, the Lady Madeline, is in a similarly catastrophic state of physical decline, her catatonic condition making the insane Usher believe that she is dead. And of the ancient crumbling and dilapidated house itself, also gradually falling apart from decades of neglect.
At first Powell takes it too literally, unable to see past the bounds of reality. But as the story unfolds he can only reason that Usher is insane, all the horrific stories he hears too fantastic to be believable.
Or are they?
Is the deterioration of the House, Usher and the Lady all some bizarre coincidence? Or could they be some horrific metaphysical connection between the three?
- Ethan Powell, the Visitor - Edward Cartwright
- Roderick Usher, the Master of the House - James Hough
- Miss Gray, the Servant - Jeanette Hoile
- Madeline Usher, the Lady of the House - Deirdre Jackson
- Stage Management - Marian Burley, Kay George, Lauri Morgan
- Lighting Design - Phil Gammon
- Sound Design - Mark Davies
- Sound Engineer - James Denny
- Lighting and Sound Operator - Christian Murphy
- Set Design - Dave Hollander
- Set Construction - Dave Hollander, Andrew Davies and Matt Collins
- Costumes - Val Williams, Stuart Draper, Ayako Koyama and Jeanette Hoile
- Publicity - Dee Fancett and Kevin Monk
- Photography - Phil Gammon
"Well, I definitely enjoyed that. I do get easily scared (I totally avoid horror films and the like) and I'm afraid Gavin's right hand bore the brunt of it tonight - I'm sure it'll be back to normal soon
It was very atmospheric, and towards the end it feels more film-like than a play (thanks to the background sounds mostly). Make-up and lighting played a big part in successfully setting the scene and tone, and James's performance, in particular, is utterly engaging. This production is very different from anything else I've seen at SLT so far, and is well worth seeing. Just make sure you've got someone's hand to grab on to..." - Clarisinda
" enjoyed this seasonal chiller last night too - particularly strong work from the new guy (sorry I don't know your name and I don't have the programme handy) playing the convincingly Victorian guest/narrator and James was fittingly bonkers and obsessive with great gusto. Nice supporting work too from Jeanette and Deirdre, whose weird role reminded me of figures from recent Japanese horror films such as Ring and The Grudge. What next Mark?" - David-Ell
"Well I agree. A great evening's entertainment. And I slept alright too, so no lasting psychological damage.
Superb performances from all, I especially liked Edward - from the start he totally commanded the language and the genre and his narration skills were supreme.
There is scope for ham-age these days but this was skillfully avoided and the result was a well-directed, well-performed, WELL TOLD STORY (a quality often sadly lacking in some shows). The sound effects were used to their best to create a convincing spooky atmosphere and I actually got rather paranoid at one point, won't go into details in case some crazy coot thinks along similar paranoid lines. In particular the use of recorded music at times lent the production a filmic quality which worked well to heighten the tension.
Well done all of you, must be exhausting, especially for James and Edward. James, do your eyes hurt much after all that?" - Smamf
"Wow. What a performance. Congratulations to all involved. Great and gripping acting, liked the authentic costumes, the homely set, the lighting effects and the music. Enjoyable evening entertainment. And I felt the shivers down my spine a few times. Well done. The only thing I was missing was a couple of more occasions to show my appreciation to the actors by applauding them at the end. Memorable production. Thanks a lot. Jurgen (the new guy)" - jurgen171
"Thanks to everyone for a terrific show. Not a scardey cat so didn't jump like that complete girlie Angela did but loved it nonetheless.
Massive plaudits to Mark for such a tight and restrained production on his debut outing.
I'm not a big fan of flats in prompt as a rule but this time was definitely the exception that proves etc......
The cast were fab. A very difficult show to pull off without resorting to reverential knowing asides that would make the whole piece descend into inferior Carry-on. It was total commitment with a difficult script and pulled off with aplomb.
Well that's my pennyworth. Hope peeps come to see this shockingly good show" - JK2
" It's official - length doesn't matter.
Superb stuff!" - KevinM
"This was is so so good. Anyone who can get down to see it really really should.
Excellent casting, spooky lighting, spooky noises. I had shivers going down my spine from start to finish!
Show was just the right length too for such a claustophobic tale of fear and woe" - francesca
"'A creepy, dark nightmare of a show'
Mark Davies has achieved which exactly what he promised. I'd highly recommend this well acted, well directed piece of victorian gothic storytelling'
Especially loved the vault.
Well done everybody!
Marko " - markwriter13
"Wow - I've never been called a girlie before!!!
I will admit that, sitting in the front row, there was a moment last night when I almost ended up on the stage doing a cameo, so violently did I leap from my seat - I have my excuses, but feel it would be futile to try to explain myself - so, yes, I am a weedey nervy scardey cat...
Absolutely loved this production - everything was just right with some wonderfully spooky surprises. Fantastic performances from all involved, great set, lighting, sound (apparently, I confess I couldn't hear it - but that's because I'm mutton) and a very tight gripping piece of theatre
Miss it at your peril
mwah ha ha" - Angela
"A couple days late in posting - saw Usher on ... Tuesday? One of the best productions I've seen at SLT over the past year. Riveting performances by James and Edward (?), a good set and effects.
I don't much understand what directors do (except sitting around with their feet up telling lowly actors and crew what to do - oh yeah, and that whole 'vision' thing), but thought the production had a clear, cohesive feel and everything was appropriately sinister (with the occasional laugh).
Loved the script - though can see the difficulties delivering such language without it seeming farcical. As it was, I was engrossed in the language, the story, the madness, intrigue, fear. Very enjoyable. Thanks to all involved." - jem
" This was a brilliant debut by a new director.
Very well acted by all, both familiar and new actors.
Can't think of a single niggle. I was rivetted.
Hope you will find something else to inspire you to direct again Mark. You are entitled to wear a self-satisfied smile for at least a week now." - Carole
"Any auditorium greeting its audience with a doorway festooned with fake cobwebs and providing a shock haired, black suited compere who welcomes the audience in suitably doomed tones, is probably an Edgar Allan Poe play. It will certainly have its fair share of gothic drama, unhinged heroes and cobwebby secrets. The South London Theatre's staging of The Fall of the House of Usher had all of these and would delight any Poe fan. Intelligently adapted from a short story, the play revolves around an unnamed narrator who responds to an old friend's appeal to visit him and his twin sister in the family home (the title house). Edward Cartwright is excellent as the Ushers' guest. He is the Everyman trapped in a deranged setup, bewildered, then horrified by the siblings' increasingly bizarre behaviour. Nervously questioning the family servant (Jeanette Hoile) about the situation, plays well against his former schoolfriend Roderick Usher (James Hough) whose descent into madness is portrayed in best Renfield-esque Victorian-melodrama fashion (plenty of shaking hands, rolling eyes and brandy-gulping). Madeline Usher (Deirdre Jackson) makes the most of her short appearance, doing her best Banquo-at-the-feast reappearance from the family crypt (emerging dramatically in blood-boltered deathrobe). It's not entirely clear why the decision was made to give her a Virginian accent (perhaps like Poe's) rather than RP English like the rest of the cast. There's some intelligent directing from Mark Davies who uses a few nods to other Poe stories, such as the sounds effects of pounding heartbeats both demonstrating the characters' growing fears as well as riffing The Tell-Tale Heart. The play's last and most dramatic scene, where the story being read aloud to Roderick starts to echo Madeline's final deathly appearance, could have been played up more strongly as the finale. Still, an excellent, solid performance which all Poe fans are going to want to see again - perhaps in a special Halloween performance?" - From whatsonstage.com
Reminiscences and Anecdotes
"You may rest assured that the screams heard on Friday and Saturday nights were as music to the ears of the children of eternal darkness (the cast and crew)."
Or add anything that is related within this site. The author's page for instance or other plays with a similar theme.
You can read the full short story online as it is out of copyright.
More about Edgar Allan Poe.