The performance begins with perhaps the smoothest example of subtle audience torture we’ve seen in a long time: pianists Tommy Hojsa and Josh Sneesby hammer dissonant chords into their pianos for 15 minutes. After that you are already in such a scary mood that Edgar Allan Poe is no longer frightening.
“The Downfall of the House of Usher”, which can already be seen at the Ruhrtriennale, is less of a dramatization, as it has been so popular lately, but rather a kind of scenic lecture. Director Barbara Frey draws on five stories by Poe, in addition to “The Downfall of the House of Usher” also “Berenice”, “The Feeneiland”, “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Murders in Rue Morgue”.
There is no such thing as an action in the classic sense. The six actors – Jan Bülow, Debbie Korley, Annamária Láng, Katharina Lorenz, Michael Maertens and Markus Scheumann at the premiere – recite Poe text excerpts, sometimes in a choir, sometimes solo. The result is a highly musical, creepy Poe opera, in which cryptic and fantastic motifs such as darkness, decay, illness, murder and being buried alive flash again and again.
The truth is that Poe’s work is always about fear – and that feeling is evoked here to the best of its ability.
This staging is strongest when it actually offers music: The actors interpret “Astronomy Domine” by Pink Floyd, “The Crystal Ship” by The Doors, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” by Frankie Valli and “Run From Me ”by the Canadian band Timer Timbre is atmospheric, dense and very eerie. In addition, scraps of choral music (Ruhrkohle choir) penetrate the decaying walls of Martin Zehetgruber’s gloomy set.
The performance is multilingual (there are surtitles), German, English and Hungarian. This nicely reinforces the impression of the mysterious, threatening, intangible.
The staging loses its power a little due to the fact that it takes place in the oversized area of the Burgtheater – the casino might have been the better venue. On the other hand, the anything but densely populated rows (the Burgtheater also suffers from the dwindling number of visitors in the post-Corona era) and the icy air (the ventilation runs at full speed to fight viruses) create a very suitable frosty atmosphere.
At the end there is very friendly applause for almost two hours of horror in the family pack. Conclusion: a remarkable, interesting, perhaps not very exciting evening.