There’s perhaps no place in the world like Edinburgh to listen to a good horror story. That might be why tales of Poe do so well at the Fringe. And while modern-day imaginings of classic figures are often gimmicky, that’s not at all the case with 21st Century Poe; in fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how true to form it was.
Scottish writer Marty Ross (of BBC radio fame) gives us an original tale based late in Edgar Allen Poe’s life. The story revolves around the author’s 1849 overnight stay in Moyamensing prison, where he admitted being locked away for drunkenness. The show is an impressive effort at paying homage to Poe’s prose, with its distinctive themes of horror, gore and death. Ross has done his utmost to fuse his fictional narrative with Poe’s own accounts, making it more of a biographical drama than one might expect from the premise.
Indeed, the writing is splendid. It’s a compelling tale that suggests an all-encompassing madness within Poe’s mind. There are hints at some of Poe’s previous work, most obviously in the allusion to the mysterious ending of his only novel. As such, it will impress fans of the poet – but the story stands well on its own for novices too.
Unfortunately, the play falls short in some aspects of the performance. As a one-man show it is pleasingly fluid, but there are some problems with accents, and Ross’ constant flailing and frenzied delivery sometimes do more to hinder than help what is otherwise a very engaging show. All in all, there seems to be a lack of real suspense, and by constantly moving at such a frantic pace the show fails to provide us with real terror. The lighting is similarly underwhelming for a professional show – what might have worked in a high school or even university production here seems rather amateur.
Despite its problems, this really is a show worth seeing for Ross’ writing alone, an enthralling and complex tale that would make a fantastic fireside thriller. It’s a shame I didn’t hear it in a dimly-lit tavern with a drop of whisky or dark ale; as it is, the story is overshadowed by Ross himself biting off a little more than he can chew. Nevertheless, this show provides yet more compelling evidence to the claim that the Scots are the best storytellers in the world.