Edgar Allen Poe has died; his worldly goods and his literary legacy have been left to Rufus Griswold, a former colleague turned fierce rival and critic. Inside Poe's home, Griswold is haunted by the past, and the works of Poe he so despises. The House of Edgar is a wonderfully atmospheric new musical, which combines the real and fictionalised lives of Poe and Griswold with some of Poe's most famous works.
The set is simple – a chair, some crates and piles of books – allowing the rest of the space to be used for the performance of the musical numbers. They need the room, for the cast has no fewer than ten members, who all have musical solos during the show. Embracing the production’s Gothic origins, the ensemble are clothed in macabre costumes – which, combined with the lanterns that are often being carried, lends a wonderfully eerie air to the whole show.
The musical accompaniment’s delivered live as well, with three on-stage musicians playing piano, acoustic guitar and violin. A musical refrain, played as the audience take their seats, appears in all the folk-style songs; this ties the disparate pieces together and fully supports the narrative. Indeed the music is enchanting overall, and will certainly get stuck in your head. There are dance elements to the musical numbers, especially The Raven, all of which are deftly choreographed.
Unlike other shows that use existing famous material – Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You – Poe’s works do not feel forced into a narrative that has to twist about in order to make sense. Rather, the references to short stories such as Annabel Lee and Hop-Frog complement and highlight the story, and showcase the talent of writer Thomas F Arnold.
The opening could be a little stronger. The first musical number, The Haunted Palace, does not take place until after a great deal of set-up and exposition by the cast, and it is also the weakest piece in the show. However, all of the later numbers are fantastic – especially Tell-Tale Heart, which is performed in an unexpected manner that ends up feeling perfectly natural.
This is a Gothic masterpiece that presents Poe's work in new and interesting ways, and it deserves all the adulations it can get. I sincerely hope that this production is expanded on and presented to a wider audience.