From the very beginning of The Pit and The Pendulumit is obvious that a great deal of credit should go to Keith Tuttle and David Gilbrook for their mastery of lighting and sound design. Through their expertise, and before the actors speak, the audience is transported to the dark damp hell made famous in Edgar Allen Poe’s brilliantly-written horror story.
Director John Goodrum has updated the piece, placing the action in early 19th century Cornwall and –unlike the original – has specified the location as a large cliff-top property. Behind it lies a small village, to the front is nothing but the raging sea and far below it is the dungeon, in which we find William Trevelyan and Josiah Bellamy.
William has been held captive by a debauched chapter known as the Hellfire Club, an even more sinister breakaway group of the Brothers of Dionysus. He has been held there since he came to find his wife who, we learn, has fallen into the hands of the disturbing “gentleman’s club”; As we join the action, he has been discovered in his living nightmare and is about to be freed by Josiah, the local police constable.
Throughout the tale Mark Homer as the captive William displays an acting talent which far exceeds his Eastenders credentials. Every word, look, move and gesture is expertly delivered to give an extremely convincing portrayal of a man driven to the very brink of insanity. He narrates the tale of his capture and mental torture in a series of graphic monologues, with the atmospheric flashbacks helped immensely by that lighting and sound design.
Nicholas Briggs as William’s saviour, Josiah, is a calming fatherly figure who helps William to regain his grip on sanity and deal with the memories of his capture and torture by encouraging him to talk though it all, in the most explicit detail. He even adds a couple of his own shocking tales, including the tragic accident that killed his son, in, yet more, horrific detail.
It is in the second act that we see Briggs elevate his performance to match that of his co-star and it is very noticeable that, throughout this gripping and terrifying tale, it could be possible to hear a pin drop in the auditorium. Goodrum and the Rumpus Theatre Company have taken a massive chance by playing this as a two-handed piece. The burden of success lies very heavily on the shoulders of both actors. It is extremely obvious from the enthusiastic audience reaction that this burden is carried with consummate ease.