From the moments the lights dim and David Crawford backs into the room, dishevelled and disorientated, there is no doubting that the man in front of us is Edgar Allan Poe. As the father of the American horror story (not that one), Poe’s tales are designed to unsettle and subvert, to terrorise and thrill. This imagining of his last night on Earth intersperses snippets of the man’s work with a rambling monologue which veers between sentimentality and paranoia, giving us an insight into what might have been going through the man’s head before he shuffled off this mortal coil.
Sustaining the audience’s attention with a 50-minute-long monologue is a tall order for any performer, but Crawford’s expert storytelling abilities and inimitable idiosyncrasies keep all eyes on him throughout. In between sips at his whisky bottle, Crawford leads us through the memories of the poet and playwright, with particular care given to the women which graced his life but ultimately, left him in wretched loneliness.
In between these rose-tinted and teary-eyed reminisces, Crawford lightens the mood with several comic moments and sporadic retreats into paranoia and delusion. The meat of the work, however, consists of Poe’s most famous writings, including a snatched scene from The Pit and the Pendulum, a love song to his prematurely deceased wife Virginia Annabel Lee and the entirety of perhaps his most famous work, The Raven.
However, the most powerful rendition is saved for The Cask of Amontillado, in which the narrator takes horrible vengeance on an acquaintance he believes has wronged him. Such is Crawford’s deftness at switching between storytelling and reminiscing mode, that those unfamiliar with the story could believe it to be a continuation of Poe’s monologue and therefore a confession of murder on his deathbed. This adds an extra layer of disquiet to the performance, and though no one is likely to be scared by the show, it certainly makes the skin crawl somewhat.
Perhaps Crawford’s biggest claim to fame as yet was his small but memorable role in the opening scenes of George Romero’s horror classic Dawn of the Dead. Almost 40 years on, Crawford is back as the star of the show – and for anyone lucky enough to witness his portrayal of Poe, it certainly outshines the 1978 role. Superb writing and a mesmerising performance put this in the highest echelons of storytelling, and though the show won’t be to everyone’s tastes, fans of Poe will be in their element.