The Black Cat – The Space

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: Edgar Allan Poe

Director: Stephen Smith

This is either a gruesome story of supernatural revenge, or a cautionary warning to all cat-owners. Either way the intense tale from Edgar Allan Poe, master of horror, is gripping and disturbing. Brought to life by the director and performer Stephen Smith as a piece of video-call based promenade theatre it’s a thrilling watch, one that maximises the potential of the Isle of Dog’s The Space as a creepy crime location.

The story tells us how our narrator winds up at the hangman’s noose, charting his descent from kindly animal lover to paranoid and murderous alcoholic. His sunny outlook and capacity for love turn to malice and violence, with all his pets and eventually his wife as victims. After he murders his cat Pluto, he meets another feline in a pub and brings it home. Did he also bring a vessel for Pluto’s revenge into his house?

The delight of this narrative is in finding out what happens next, so no spoilers here (though it’s clearly a 150yr old story so all available online). As Smith inhabits the character, unveiling one wretched evolution after another, he roams the atmospheric building of The Space, lashing out where he can. Alone, apart from the Michaela Bennison as the soon-to-be-murdered wife, it’s a compelling presentation of Poe’s suspense-filled text.

Here, as a live-streamed presentation, the sound quality is not perfect, and the connectivity issues causing blips in the feed aren’t ideal. However it’s creatively lit, and with an entirely appropriate rattling-chains and floorboard-creaks style soundscape it feels complete. This is a classic horror production with a twist coming from our perspective as confessor to the murderer as he revisits the locations of his key moments. This intimate and mobile view is highly engaging, drawing us into a 50 minute performance and making it seem like five. Compelling stuff and a great example of using this new digital formatting in a creative and engaging way.

Runs here until 26 March 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Tense, thrilling and creative

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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