Home » London Theatre Reviews » Play » Masque of the Red Death at Barons Court Theatre | Review

Masque of the Red Death at Barons Court Theatre | Review

Masque of the Red Death Roberta Fox (Katerina Novakova) has brought together several people to her house. I could only ascertain roughly when this version of The Masque of the Red Death is set by a debate (if that’s the right word) between the academically minded Bentley (Alain English) and Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) (David Smith). This was an era when domestic servants still worked from early in the morning until late at night, with little if any paid holidays. Here, Pandora (Alexandra Ryall) must not only see to it that everyone else is sufficiently imbibing, but also recite extracts from the works of Poe.

Fox is after a copy of Poe’s Eureka – the setting of the production in a bygone era helps tremendously with her methods of obtaining one. These days it’s online as part of Project Gutenberg and other websites, but even here, it’s not immediately clear why she has to have it, other than the dominatrix-style ‘because I said so’ mentality. The ‘Red Death’ of the play’s title appears to be an epidemic – symptoms include acute pain, dizziness and “profuse bleeding at the pores”.

It doesn’t take very long to read through Poe’s original short story, and thus this play comes in at under an hour, even with embellishments about Poe’s other works. The music used in the show is atmospheric enough, as is the lighting, and the cavern-like nature of the venue in the first place lends itself well to the creepy and foreboding ambience the production tries to create. Lines are, by and large, delivered in a very measured manner, which suits the studio performance space but doesn’t quite give the production the sense of urgency and fear it could do with to be truly convincing.

Some of the backstories are interesting, such as Bentley’s seeming inability to get over being bullied as a child well into adulthood, though I get the feeling that these are stories that could be developed into plays in their own right. Not that this play feels rushed, but at times I began to wonder whether the production was actually interested in furnishing the audience with a complete narrative, or otherwise leave patrons to fill in the gaps with what may or may not have happened according to their own interpretations.

A nod to Michael Jackson’s seminal ‘Thriller’ song was understandable in terms of having a relatively contemporary reference to compare events in The Masque of the Red Death to. One also becomes, given the number of blackouts in a single act, aware of quite how many scenes there are. Not everything makes sense, either: why does Ringo (Danny Darwin) have selective hearing, not able to understand what anyone is saying one moment, but then responding to someone’s remarks the next?

After a shaky start with some poetical monologues that I had trouble connecting with the main story, the show finishes well. Overall, this is a somewhat intriguing production that would perhaps work better alongside another adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story, presented as a double bill.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Meet the Red Plague, the horrible, hideous, loathsome disease that’s ravaging the city. Meet Dominatrix Roberta Fox who has retreated to her castellated library and shut herself in with her select guests. A masquerade ball, fetish debauchery, excess and a shocker of an ending.

MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
A Stage Theatre Company Production
Direction / Adaptation by Nick Pelas
Based on Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
17 September to 29 September 2019 (7.30 p.m.)

Author

Scroll to Top