This week’s theatre adventure took place at CLF Art Cafe in Peckham, with a performance entitled ‘Midnight at the Rue Morgue: The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe,” which was put on by Ba-laylah Productions. The event is described as follows:
The event takes place in a darkly lit room, with four carnival type set ups and an open space in the centre. On arrival you are handed a mask to put on (an exercise I found a bit pointless and irritating, partially because my mask was covered in feathers and I’m allergic.) The four set ups are each occupied by a character- a doctor, a show girl, a ventriloquist, and a clairvoyant, and each is a constantly ongoing contribution to the performance. You can visit each at your leisure, interact with them for as long as you like, and then move around the space. Every now and then one character becomes the dominating act and all the focus is on their performance and give an insight towards how it relates to the evening. The production uses a mix of lighting and the attention of the ringleader to draw your attention to the correct areas at the relevant times.
The circus is orchestrated by an impish harlequin-equse spirt. She posses and torments each character in turn, and is quite eerie in posture (very reminiscent of a more evilly gleeful version of Amanda from Immercity’s Wyrd, but one who moves across the stage with a graceful step that would not look out of place in a Shakespearean play.) Each character in his or her torment aims to kill this daemon or break free from being possessed by her.
This is particularly well done in the torment of Rowena Wilson, who was formerly a conjoined twin (and one of the better actors in the show.) The daemon torments her into doing an old routine which she used to do with her now deceased sister. Towards the end of the dance her scars line up with the tormenting spirit, and she struggles to separate herself from what torments her- the ghost of her dead sister and the guilt she feels at being “happy now. Really happy now.”
The performance is carried by the dancer, doctor (who quite amusingly “freezes” when other characters are in the spotlight- twice he froze whilst holding his hands on people’s faces, with his mouth wide open inches from their faces and staring into their eyes; naturally one of these times I was one of the people) and also the malevolent taunting and tormenting spirit.
The problem I had with it is that I could not, for the life of me, figure out what the hell was going on.
Going in, you receive a newspaper print with back stories of the four characters worked into it. My awfully clever companion, Rose, was able to do a bit of detective work with the newspaper story to establish the reasons for the torments for three of the four characters, and we enjoyed that there was a bit of responsibility put on the visitors to figure out what was going on (god I love Oxford educated people.)
We felt totally lost, however, on the role of the clairvoyant (who also inadvertently put his finger up my nose, which was kinda awkward.) We also couldn’t quite grasp what message we were meant to carry away with us, and genuinely felt a strong knowledge of Poe was essential for understanding what the heck we has just seen.
I’ve only read the tell tale heart, so for me the way the heart’s thumping was enacted by the harlequin (who was brightly dressed in red) was great, but I failed to grasp the moral of the story, and also what role the clairvoyant was meant to play in it. I’d be interested to find out if anyone with a stronger knowledge of Poe did indeed have a more comprehensive experience.
The interaction was good (actors were good at getting people involved), the free flowing space was good, and the fact that you could drink during the performance was very good. The problem for me was that I didn’t take anything profound away from the evening- other than confusion and a new-found fear of Peckham.
2 1/2 stars
Midnight at the Rue Morgue will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; find out more here.