Walking up to the Bodleian Library at night you feel the weight of years upon you - heavy stone, looming architecture. Go through the arched door into a small crowded room. Towered over by dark and foreboding paintings of long forgotten figures, you are approached and greeted with… a set of headphones. Yup, it’s not going to be any old Gothic horror.
With headset donned and tuned we are ushered into the vaulted hall of stone and wood room. The lights are low. The setting is perfect for a foreboding evening’s entertainment. The music from the headset, though, seems to be Middle Eastern in nature, and there is also a glowing bank of computers to the side. Nope, it’s not going to be an ordinary night at the theatre.
As the action begins we are beyond doubt that Creation Theatre haven't brought us to this setting to merely present us with a rendition of Poe’s 1842 short horror story The Pit and The Pendulum. We are going to be presented with a one(ish) actor play, supported by a full helping of dramatic light, picture projections and multi-directional audio sound effects.
Of course Creation Theatre wouldn’t just stop there. Rather than using these new tools to tell Poe’s old narrative, they have a new story to tell. We follow a young Iranian woman’s plight as she is cast into a dungeon for her subversive activities. Being well-educated and worldly, our protagonist sees the echoes of Poe’s story in her own. The director, Christopher York, cleverly weaves the two stories together, telling each within and around the other, quite literally letting them talk to one another (thanks to excellent narration by Nicholas Osmond). Themes of resistance, feminism, hope, despair, originality and Star Wars are all woven in, to create a fully charged and unique experience.
Clearly there was a lot to like about this hour long production. The creative use of space, of technology and of mixed storytelling was laudable. The projected pendulum was ingenious. Special mention must go to Afsaneh Dehrouyeh, who brought our sassy and determined character to life with huge lashings of passion. If you are interested in the world of theatrics you really don’t want to miss this very short
On the other hand, for me the whole was somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Whether intentional or not, I found the piece discordant, and rather than drawing me in, this dissonance somehow pushed me away. The clash between the Gothic feel of Poe’s narrative and the modern commentary pulled me short. The horror of the rat scene was suddenly squashed by comedy sound effects. On a physical level, I couldn’t quite tell if I should be looking at the projector screen or at the actor. Walking back to the car I reflected that I would have far rather had the original use of the AV tools bring to life a straighter telling of Poe’s story, or perhaps preferred the interesting juxtaposition of Poe and the incarcerated activist’s story delivered without the other distractions.
The Pit and The Pendulum by Creation Theatre is a highly original, interesting and thoughtful piece. It is well worth seeing and thinking about. Though slightly flawed by trying to do too much, I will keep coming back to Creation’s productions because they will always deliver a novel experience like no other.