Reviews Edinburgh Published 8 August 2012

Three by Poe

C Nova ⋄ 7th - 27th August 2012

The horror, the horror.

Stewart Pringle

Two of Edgar Allan Poe’s best stories and one of his worst are given an ineffective reading with no attempt to invest proceedings with drama or intrigue. Richard Smithies is the adaptor, director and performer but there’s barely a word adapted, no perceivable direction and little performance. There’s a certain amount of fun to be had with he heights of Vincent Price-esque campery Smithies reaches, but it’s a drab hour that fails to chill the spine or quicken the pulse.

Smithies has chosen three of Poe’s revenge dramas, where obscure slights are punished with ludicrous violence, and he recites them in near-complete form.

The Cask of Amontillado is up first, Poe’s existential horror of Iago-beating motiveless malignity. Smithies struggles to distinguish the characters, the faceless Montresor bleeds simperingly into foppish Fortunato and by the conclusion it’s a little unclear who is immuring who.

The Tell-Tale Heart is robbed of all subtlety, Smithies sits in convict’s pyjamas half-way out of a spotlight and gurns through the familiar floorboard thumper. There’s no effort made to characterise the vengeful young man as anything other than a frothing lunatic and no attempt at developing a grounding in reality. The logic of Poe’s characters may be strange and centrifugal, but a vortex, however ferocious, must necessarily be fringed by calm waters.

Worst of all is Hop-Frog which is a bit underwhelming on the page but at least has its ludicrously grotesque finale to recommend it. One of Poe’s Europhile burlesque’s, in which a jester concocts a boggling revenge on a cruel king, it has that fuzzy, woozy quality that Wilde later visited in his fairy tales. To present its third person narration Smithies appears as Poe himself, sporting a moustache hurriedly applied with an eyeliner pencil and giant trousers. He reads the story verbatim from a sheaf of printed pages, his only sop to period detail a little bit of tea-staining and typing them out in Mistral.

The production values are very poor, with sound and costume design locked in a valiant struggle to Fringe nadir: the ramblings of a Casio keyboard and a sewing machine after a brutal DMT binge. Maddeningly there are lengthy blackouts while Smithies dons the next ill-fitting jacket or silly cape and it’s just not good enough for its source material or its audiences. Smithies is a decent story-teller, and it’s refreshing to hear Poe read in something approximating the writer’s native accent, but Three By Poe is ultimately a bit of a chore.


Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Three by Poe Show Info

Directed by Richard Smithies

Cast includes Richard Smithies


Running Time 1 hr



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