Writer: Edgar Allan Poe
Director: Selwin Hulme-Teague
Crouched in a pool of light, a narrator tells his tale of cruelty, drunkenness and murder.
It helps to have a good writer, and The Black Cat is blessed with the teasing, playful and rationally irrational words of Edgar Allan Poe. Putting the story into the narrator’s mouth, The Black Cat is about a man with a fondness for animals whose love of alcohol and visiting dens of ‘more than iniquity’ lead him to violence and madness, particularly in his relationship to a certain black cat.
Keaton Guimarães-Tolley plays the narrator, wearing a red neckerchief and a suit with a funeral director stripe. He’s a chameleon, flowing round the empty space, sometimes confidential, as if letting the audience into a secret and sometimes writhing about in agony. He manages to convey the written story as lived experience, delivering the complex language of the story with spontaneity. His movement is just as precise. While there are no animals on stage, the ghosts of their movements show in the way he holds them, so we can distinguish the shy canary from the rambunctious dog, as we can also chart the shifting relationships with the titular cat.
He’s joined on stage by Catherine Warnock, ethereal in a white nightgown, who accompanies the story with a clarinet, a flute and a violin. Sometimes she’s a part of the action but mostly she moves around it, providing a soundtrack to the innocent games of animals, the woozy descent of drunkenness and the piercing pangs of anger. It’s almost as if the sound is the puppeteer and the narrator the puppet.
Words, music and movement come together brilliantly, with Selwin Hulme-Teague’s direction, knowing when to be busy and when to be silent. More than just a story reading, The Black Cat manages to be a fever-dream built from very simple ingredients. It may be a little past the traditional time of year for spooky stories, but this production is well worth seeking out
Runs until 25 March 2023