>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 11 jun 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" reveals how the "collateral issue" (inbreeding) undoes the ancient line of Ushers. Diseased in mind and body, Usher's last surviving twins Roderick and Madeline summon a Friend for succour, to no avail. Poe's account overflows with grotesque detail, flooding the reader with decay, mania and melancholy. Originally written during a productive and relatively fruitful time in Poe's life, this tale startles with its unsettling narrative, unhinged characters and fetid themes.

On Friday evening, SRT Young Company wrestled with Steven Berkoff's dramatic adaptation of the tale, and after many paroxysmal permutations, largely succeeds. Each of the principle characters are played by three actors who continue, add to and shade each figure's scripted lines. Character itself is thus made fragmentary, layered and inscrutable, reflecting the dark complexity of Poe's figures. The issue of incest is also shrouded, and suggested only through flashy sequences that flit between agony and ecstasy.

>>'Clothed in cheap pyjamas, the cast kindled sleepless delirium'

The condition of the twins is caught up with and complexified by their association with the physical House. Central to Poe's tale is Roderick's assertion that the House itself pulses with malevolent intent. To recreate this, the cast undertook another clever technique: with each contortion, the chorus became the House's gothic archways, labyrinthine catacombs, religious icons, ornate furniture and even vegetative compounds, writhing with every human contact. Organic and sentient, the House's crumbling integrity both mirror and speed along the splintering lives of those who inhabit it.

While these theatrical devices recommend themselves, they were also highly demanding. The cast had to evoke both physical and mental presence for such an endeavour. Nettled with a general lack of polish, there were some in the cast who nonetheless shone: Vanessa made the Friend both puissant and engaging; while Adisak and Brendon gave Roderick Usher a tortured appeal, almost sublime in effecting the character's dissolving sanity.

Clothed in cheap pyjamas, the cast kindled sleepless delirium, a dreamscape where human and house lack distinction. In this overthrow of the Ushers, little separates the nightmarish from the real; fact and fiction evaporate into one malodorous miasma.