Posted by Matt Foley on October 04, 2015 in Blog, News tagged with , , ,



By Marty Ross


During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.



The vast majority of Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest stories share the same starting point: a troubled, disturbed narrator needs – in the most immediate, emphatic terms – to tell us the story of his strange experiences. And all the drama which follows is filtered through the personality of that narrator. Which means that Poe’s stories lend themselves to being dramatised in a live theatrical storytelling format, certainly one where the storyteller abandons the third person “once upon a time” perspective of much live storytelling for a ‘telling’ through the persona of a first hand participant in the drama. This approach might indeed, more closely approximate Poe’s claustrophobically subjective tone than the ‘third person’ format of more conventional film/TV/theatre dramatisation.


So when I, in developing my work as a live performance storyteller, was looking for something a little edgier, more dissonant, than the poe image southsideretold folk tales that form the basis of most storytelling repertoires, Poe’s stories seemed a natural. I started with a ‘straight’ version of  Fall Of The House Of Usher. But a large part of the art of live storytelling is not simply to recite an author’s already existing words, but to make the material one’s own – both by telling it in one’s own words and by reworking the narrative itself to bring it closer to the world of oneself and one’s audience. Storytellers have been doing this for centuries: the Scottish crofter taking an Irish tale he heard off a fisherman and relocating its setting from a haunted hill in Sligo to the hill that just happens to be behind his own village… and, of course, a century later academic researchers will discover the tale was lifted from The Arabian Nights in the first place!


Furthermore, I was concerned that if I performed these Poe stories as mist-shrouded 19th. century period pieces a modern audience, weaned on the grittiest contemporary horror, might simply take them as quaint period pieces, charming more than chilling. And I wanted an effect edgier, more dissonant, more modernist than that. More deeply and personally still, I aspired to fuse the world of the Poe stories with the world in which I’d grown up reading and loving them, specifically the landscape of Glasgow, and more particularly Glasgow’s South Side, itself a very ‘Gothic’ landscape with its Victorian architecture that has often seen better days. What better setting for my own Poe-derived modernist/Scottish Gothic?


The resulting 21st. Century Poe stories were well received at the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Horror Festival and Glasgow’s Southside Fringe… to date a cycle of three stories: Heart Shaped Hole, relocating Tell Tale Heart to Glasgow’s tower block drug scene, Ligeia: This Is (Not) A Love Song, set amid the Glasgow post-punk scene of the late 70s… and Falling For The Ushers, in which Roderick and Madeline have become superstars of Glasgow’s contemporary conceptual art scene — only for a reunion with an old friend from Glasgow School Of Art to prompt a ‘fall’ as macabre and tragic as in the original tale.


Then, this year, when the chance came to perform Ushers at Glasgow’s Britannia Panopticon music hall, it seemed the perfect marriage of story and setting. The Panopticon has seen grander days: the interior is intact but ramshackle and in need of restoration, the back wall behind the stage blistered and stained like the skin of a victim of the Red Death, central heating absent (hot water bottles available for autumnal performances): therefore, a perfect equivalent to the derelict Clydeside warehouse to which I have relocated Roderick and Madeline: Glasgow Gothic incarnate!


So I’m hoping this latest performance will be the most atmospheric, spine-chilling telling of the tale yet. And if I can make a success of it, the Panopticon would be the ideal setting for future incarnations of 21st Century Poe.


21st CENTURY POE: FALLING FOR THE USHERS, Britannia Panopticon, 113 – 117 Trongate, Glasgow, G1 5HD. Saturday Oct 10th 7.30pm. Tickets £8 / £6 concession. To book: judith@britanniapanopticon.org  0141-553-0840.

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