Review – La Maledicion de Poe (The Curse of Poe) – Teatro Corsario at Southbank Center

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Nobody that knows me could have been surprised that, upon reading the following tweet, my next thought was to fire up my browser and buy a ticket to this event: “Step into the dark & thrilling world of Edgar Allen Poe with Teatro Corsario’s award-winning ‘puppets of terror’ http://j.mp/feiXR8 .” Edgar Allen Poe and puppets, Grand Guignol-style? Sign me up, and thank you to Southbank Center for alerting me to this show. I mean, the title “2011 International Mime Festival” really doesn’t lead you to expect puppets, right? I would have never even read the program of shows. The online description was even more tantalizing: “Teatro Corsario’s award-winning ‘puppets of terror’ have tingled spines across Europe. Not for the faint-hearted! Suitable for ages 12 and over” – with a picture of a puppet burying an axe in another. And it was only one hour long! It all sounded like a perfect Sunday afternoon for me.

It was my first time at the Purcell room, which is actually a bit of an irritating venue because of the fact the seats are not staggered, which meant I had to keep leaning to the right to see the action during the three scenes where the characters were prone in the front part of the stage. Grr. And I’m also a bit grumpy as they delayed the start of the show by about 15 minutes; not deadly but irritating.

That said, let’s get to the meat of the matter: how was the show? How were the puppets? Was it terrifying? First, to the puppetry; this was done as a sort of bunraku, only with the puppeteers dressed in black velvet with hoods and, I think, occasionally operating behind curtains. I could only rarely see them, if I was looking at some brighter object; while normally I try to see what the puppeteers are doing, in this case I felt it was better to respect their clear desires to remain wholly unseen and just watch a show in which, as it appeared, doll like creatures were moving about on stage unsupported by the human hand.

The puppets themselves were pretty cool, though they seemed …. well, somewhat bizarre. There were a few major characters – Edgar, Annabel (Annabel Lee), her mother, Edgar’s grandparents, a policeman, a drunkard, and a monkey … probably about 3 feet tall each. They weren’t the kind of puppets that made you marvel at their craftsmanship, but they were good and professional, not cheap, and each puppet had its own personality.

Of course, being a “horror” puppet show, we had a few special puppets, in this case two old people who had been sliced to death by the monkey and a woman who’d been accidentally axed by her husband. They were deliciously gruesome and perfect illustrations to the Poe stories they meant to tell (“Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Black Cat”), but they were NOT appropriate viewing for ten year olds and I think the women who hustled their kids out thirty minutes in were deeply regretting their purchases. I also loved the evil monkey, who formed a much bigger character than I remember from reading Poe; he was a force of anarchy.

The story itself, well, I’m afraid the love story of Edgar and Annabel was rather limp, and the presence of her mother not very effective. In this, I think Teatro Corsario worked too hard to take too many small stories and blend them together; while the final image of death and Annabel Lee’s grave was quite good the story itself was just not there, and the whole thread with Edgar being chased by the policeman who’s trying to blame him for his grandparents’ deaths was incoherent. Fortunately, the free program sheet explained the entire story (such as it was), which really, really helped in my attempts to impose continuity on the narrative; but I think three distinct story lines would have worked much better.

However, cramming it all into one hour is a bit of a trick, and I didn’t actually get bored at any point, so there must have been something going right. I could recognize the problems but still have a good time, and I got what I came for: scary puppet theater with bonus killer monkey. And how often can you say that, especially of a cold London January Sunday?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, January 16th, 2011. It continues through Wednesday January 19th.)

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