For Midlands-based group Clown Funeral's debut in Edinburgh, they bring together beloved horror fiction writer Edgar Allan Poe and renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud – in a production that combines comedy, storytelling, and urban legends. Poe accuses modern people of emailing too many 'poorly proofread threats', and promises to deliver a 'more gothic, more poetic' form of entertainment.
The narrative is split into three short stories, all with an underlying theme of horror and surrealism. The first involves an aristocratic lady who pressurizes her wig maker into creating a custom-made wig in less than 24 hours. The hilarious wig maker and his assistant George try their best to find all the hair they will need. But their sources are not ideal, and disaster follows from there.
The second story is about a séance gone wrong, and the horrors of a haunted old building; the man who disrupts the séance is punished and ruin descends upon every other participant. The final story takes up the theme of chain letters and puts it in a historical context, where the union of a pair of lovers depends on their following a mysterious set of instructions.
The cast produces a lot of the audio effects by themselves – the opening of a creaky door, the sounds of footsteps down hallways, and even spiders – building the atmosphere with a great level of finesse. It is also highly entertaining, with a lot of activity on stage; actors who aren't part of a scene are pressed into service as human props. Portraits come to life, ghosts chase their unwitting victims, and death comes from unlikely causes. The choreography is faultless, and the transitions from one role to another are always very smooth.
Some actors are notably stronger than others, though the overall production is so neatly tied together that individual weaknesses are easy to overlook. Ella Tebay and Patrick Tobin stand out particularly for their dialogue, delivery and stage presence. But I was thrown off a little by Freud's accent, which was so affected that I could hardly understand what was being said for the first few lines; it's perhaps just as well, then, that the script did not have as much of Freud as I had expected from the blurb.
Overall, this is a very entertaining show, albeit lopsided towards Poe than Freud. You'll enjoy an hour of 'laying the human soul bare' and 'examples of why psychologists do not tell stories'.