Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸
Prior to their second year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, (the first being in 2016), Argosy Arts Co. formed by recent graduates of the University of Exeter are back and previewed their new and improved production of original musical work The House of Edgar at New Wimbledon Theatre’s Time and Leisure Studio this week.
Written solely by Musical Director Thomas F. Arnold, The House of Edgar is an incredibly clever, must-see for Edgar Allan Poe enthusiasts, it weaves Poe’s life, or death as it were, with dramatic reimaginings of the works he crafted throughout it. Blending fact and fiction, the show explores the poet’s rivalry with friend Rufus Griswold who infamously upon Poe’s death opened the obituary with the lines ‘Edgar Allan Poe is dead… This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.’ Showing the man’s true colours. As Griswold procures the keys to Poe’s estate following his untimely death in 1849, he enters the house and what ensues is his take upon his colleague’s life works, but the words upon the page, the fiction, have other ideas to how his visit shall end.
The House of Edgar is much on trend by angling the plot from a unique perspective, Griswold’s. It follows those that have recently come before it such as Hamilton and the utilisation of Aaron Burr, gifting the narrative instead to the rival. In this sense Argosy’s piece is innovative and exciting, challenging what we already know and adding colour to the history. Set to a beautiful score of gothic-folk songs, played eloquently by Thomas F. Arnold and violinist Kate Smethurst, the work is brimming with heart and soul and is inexplicably polished. But is is not simply a two-dimensional recollection of a historic rivalry, it brings to life the level of Griswold’s jealousy and stages the grief both he and Poe seemingly felt during and after Virginia Clemm’s illness. The illness that took her life two years after her husband, Poe, wrote and published The Raven, something Griswold here begrudges. Therefore The House of Edgar excellently physicalises and elucidates the angst behind Griswold’s very real smear campaign upon Poe’s legacy, Griswold waiting for his rival to die, then securing control of his estate and therefore the ability to spread fallacies about the man. Therefore this is a perfectly balanced piece of theatre exploring the universal themes of love, loss and legacy.
Set inside Edgar Allan Poe’s residence, the staging centres around a white door and bookcases that house Poe’s own work. Director Ben Philipp chooses the door to be the only utilised entrance and exit into the performance space, well and truly cementing the piece inside the Poe House, as the narrative is a look into the reasoning behind Poe’s personal writing decisions the house therefore hedonising this. But further than this, the use of the books to suggest a ghostly presence, (Poe’s own The Masque of Red Death), materialises the fiction, which through song comes to life before Griswold’s eyes. We see the ensemble emerge as a story telling device, energetically and distinctively transpiring Poe’s most famous works, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, Annabel Lee and The House of Usher to stage. The movement sequences developed by Tobias Cornwell illuminate these sections particularly well. But when writing, Thomas F. Arnold did not simply chose Edgar Allan Poe literary pieces to simply shoe horn in, it is clear to see he chose each with a specific purpose. The Tell-Tale Heart is unequivocally Griswold’s view that Poe should have felt guilty for writing and publishing The Raven about his wife’s death whilst she was still alive. The Raven is of course about her death, as is Annabel Lee supposedly, though many contest the subject of the work. Finally, Arnold uses The House of Usher to once again indicate Griswold’s opinion that Poe put Virginia into an early grave with the premature creation of The Raven, much like Madeline is precipitously entombed in the story. As you can tell, Arnold is incredibly perceptive and his book is similarly very adroit and pervasive.
For something in a simple black box space, the performance visually appeared sublimely professional, from the period costuming, to the use of high quality lighting and sound equipment, (minus a few mic problems). The actors performances were similarly formidably well put together and of a seasoned standard. Culminating in an enthralling and exciting production. If you get the chance, do catch The House of Edgar at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at Greenside @ Nicholson Square (Venue 209). Click here for more info.
Producer – Jack Dryden
Producer, Composer, Lyricist, Writer, Musical Director – Thomas F. Arnold
Director – Ben Philipp
Movement Director – Tobias Cornwell
Vocal Coach – Beth Chalmers
Rufus Griswold – Eoin McAndrew
The Masque of Red Death – Ashley Gillard
Virginia Clemm – Anna Blackburn
Virginia Clemm (Wimbledon Performances) – Beth Clarence
Mr. Price/Sir Ethelred – James Alston
The Madman/The Raven – Sarah Dean
The Student/Roderick Usher – Andrew Sharpe
Annabel Lee/Madeline Usher – Beth Chalmers
The Lover/The Confidant – Will Beynon
Violin – Kate Smethurst