Forkbeard Fantasy’s interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic horror is nothing if not inventive. Projections, film clips, animation, rubber sets and puppets are all used to create the bizarre world of the ill-fated Empire Picture Palace.
The Fall of the House of Usherettes started out as a storyboard inspired by the Poe tale of a similar name, which was then turned into a play to celebrate 100 years of cinema back in 1996. A film buff stumbles upon an old cinema run by three sinister sisters and their well-meaning but completely mad (and pill-popping) brother who together guard the secret formula of ‘liquid film’, a constantly evolving type of film which allows movies to go on forever, continually changing.
While trying to unravel the mysteries of said film, chirpy film buff is trapped in the labyrinthine bowels of the crumbling cinema house of horror by the cartoon-like bad guys (or rather women), who all sport long black dresses with big clumpy boots and wigs of straggly black locks ridiculously piled on top of their evil heads.
Like in Theatre of Blood, which also featured people trapped in an old building earlier this year at the National, there are plenty of references to Shakespeare, particularly Macbeth as the three crones repeatedly ask “When shall we three meet again…” There are also contemporary film references to the likes of The Shining, while the music is a veritable medley of horror hits, from Prokofiev’s classic “The Montagues and Capulets” to the theme tune from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The comic book-style action is at times quite amusing, and the three performers (Chris Britton, Tim Britton and Ed Jobling) who take on all the roles put immense energy into the characters. The set and costumes by Penny Saunders and the cinematography by Robin Thorburn can’t be faulted for creativity either. And the production is certainly interesting as a showcase for various theatrical devices.
However, any extended dialogue loses momentum because the players are such caricatures that there's not enough about them for the audience to believe in or care about. As such, while intriguing, the script is certainly not funny enough to sustain a full 90 minutes. It would probably go down very well as a 30-minute schools touring production. But as a full-length entertainment for adults, much of it should have been left on the cutting room floor.
- Caroline Ansdell (reviewed at Riverside Studios)