I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe
Dawson Nichols @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage
9:00pm, Mon 10 Mar 2014
No matter how I tried to wrangle the numbers, there was no way for me to knock any more than three shows off The Shortlist on this public holiday Monday; as a result, it seemed like a prime night to tackle the largest of the (thus-far) unplanned “big” shows, Dawson Nichols’ I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe – one of two two-hour solo performances that Nichols was performing at this year’s Fringe.
The other show, of course, was the incredible Virtual Solitaire, which really stuck out in my memory… and, as I walked to the Bakehouse, I searched this very blog to find out that I’d seen Virtual Solitaire in 2000 – and, in somewhat of a surprise, I had actually seen I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe before, in 1998.
And that’s half the reason I write this blog – so I can “remember” (in some fashion) all the things I’ve seen.
Now – some might argue that the fact that I couldn’t immediately recall having seen this piece before must be testament to its failings, or somesuch – but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I just dug through the piles of spreadsheets on my hard-drives to find the records from my first Big Festival Year – a whopping sixty-one events in 1998! – and discovered that, along with my naïve scoring system (in which Poe had received five-out-of-five), I also had a “short review” column… which, in the case of this show, simply read “Incredible“.
So I guess I liked it then.
And – let’s cut to the chase – I love it now.
From the very opening of the show, which sees Nichols roaming the audience to dim his own house lights, before settling in the centre of a mostly empty stage with a lantern flickering shadows over the back walls, I was transfixed; his embodiment of Joseph – a man whose belief that he may be the legendary author of the macabre has left him institutionalised – is so wonderfully realised that I didn’t dare take my attention off him for a second.
Over the course of two hours, through two Acts, Nichols becomes a series of characters that intersect with Joseph: other inmates at his asylum, doctors, and – at the start of the second Act – a glorious professorial role that offsets the grim nature of some of Poe’s life with delicious lecture-theatre humour thrown into the dark. And the readings of Poe’s works? Mesmerising; the flickering shadows during Silence – A Fable, the torment of The Tell-Tale Heart, and a brilliantly paced rendition of The Raven are worth the ticket price alone.
But Nichols’ play built around these works offers much, much more than a couple of expert readings; it is a wonderful story in itself, full of compassion and humour and darkness. And the only thing better than the script (buy it!) is Nichols’ performance: his presence is so deft, so soft and natural, that every character is instantly recognisable and endearing.
And – most of all – it was super pleasing to see a near-capacity crowd turn up for this performance… even if it did mean I was wodged next to a rotund child whose constant jiggling throughout the show was easily attributed to the sugar he ingested throughout. But, whilst that sort of thing would normally irritate me no end, for this show I was unconcerned… because, whether he knew it or not, he was witness to one of the great solo performances of the year.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 10, 2014