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The Black Cat at the King’s Head Theatre, London

Those familiar with Edgar Allen Poe’s literary work may be aware that the language and the style in which it is written can be a barrier to entry. It can be difficult in the modern culture of shock value and CGI to see why Poe is considered such a master of the horror genre. Selwin Hulme-Teague’s reimagining of The Black Cat is the answer to this.

The Black Cat - Credit Alexander Atherton.
The Black Cat – Credit Alexander Atherton.

Beginning with The Narrator (unnamed in both book and play) sitting cross-legged onstage alone beneath a single spotlight, a suspenseful mood is set from the start. Seemingly crafted with emotion and suspense in mind, The Black Cat takes this first step and carries its willing audience on the wild ride of one man’s journey into madness.

There is no staging, no scenery. It needs none. There are no electronic sound effects or recorded music. It needs none. Wonderfully shorn of such trappings, the pure energy of Keaton Guimarães-Tolley’s performance is free to go where it may and the powerful build throughout the piece is a journey indeed.

Guimarães-Tolley frequently stalks the performance area like a caged tiger, leaving no area untrod and even offering some direct interaction with the audience on occasion. He is, at times, entirely still, and this only offers a greater presence to his seeming agitation through the remainder of the piece.

Such command of the stage and the audience’s emotions would not be possible, of course, without Catherine Warnock’s musical performance and physical presence. The perfect counterpoint to Guimarães-Tolley’s wild energy, Warnock’s precise and controlled actions offer an additional depth to the piece that lifts it out of first-person just enough to add a new layer of audience immersion that were it a monologue alone would not be possible.

Warnock’s musical talent is considerable and her command of the open-holed flute, an impressive thing alone, is put to excellent use. Far beyond this, Warnock offers a multi-instrumental performance that builds an emotive soundscape reminiscent of an old black and white horror film.

If there was but one critique to be levelled at The Black Cat it is that, much like a rollercoaster, it is thrill after thrill and a little greater dynamic range would not go amiss, however, it may be that as The Narrator descends into madness and is given no respite, the choice to offer none to the audience is a deliberate one.

Those with a less robust constitution may find some of the content to be somewhat disturbing and the manner in which it is presented certainly gives the audience little room for interpretation or avoidance. The Black Cat comes with a content warning for a reason. However, far from gratuitous, these graphic depictions are at the heart of the piece and while undoubtedly disturbing, they are an essential component of this dark tale.

The Black Cat is a spell-binding production that is visually and audibly excellent. A true treat for Edgar Allen Poe fans and sceptics alike.

5 Star Rating

Review by Damien Russell

A man’s relationship with his cat takes a horrific turn, leading to unexplainable supernatural events that rob him of everything he has.

Edgar Allan Poe’s world of horror, expressive words & morbid imagery comes to life like you’ve never seen before. Allow the narrator, played by Keaton Guimarães-Tolley & a mysterious woman, played by Catherine Warnock, to take you on a spine-chilling journey of loss, addiction & questionable sanity.

Cast | Keaton Guimarães-Tolley & Catherine Warnock

Director | Selwin Hulme-Teague
Composer | Catherine Warnock
Technical Manager | Lewis Mote
Producer | Penelope Diaz

Edgar Allan Poe’s famous horror story is brought to life in a thrilling, physical staging accompanied by live music

21st – 25th March 2023

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