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A CurtainUp London Review
The Fall of the House of Usherettes
by Neil Dowden
Fanatical film archivist Bernard von Earlobe (Tim Britton) arrives at the crumbling Empire Picture Palace determined to procure by any means necessary its secret store of 'liquid film' -- a magical 'living' celluloid which is forever changing. The master of the cinema is supposedly his old schoolfriend Roderick Lilyhair de Usherette (Chris Britton) but as he is perpetually spaced out on hallucinogenic pills he is under the thumb of his three weird sisters (the Brittons plus Ed Jobling) who guard their treasure with zealous possessiveness.
In this ludicrously grand-guignol atmosphere (partly created by the wonderfully gothic set and costume designs by Penny Saunders), Earlobe wanders along the labyrinthine corridors of the Empire in search of the holy grail of liquid film, which he eventually discovers in the crypt. But will he be able to emerge with it into the outside world or will he be trapped in one of the living film loops which the sisters use for intruders?
In addition to the references to Poe, and the witchcraft of Macbeth of course, there are a plethora of cinematic allusions, including ones to Don't Look Now, The Shining and Hammer Horror, not to mention music from Psycho. In fact, Forkbeard have probably put too many diverse ingredients into their strange brew, especially as the slight story sometimes seems merely a pretext for indulging in technical wizardry -- like the two neo-classical statues holding up the Empire's ceiling, it struggles to support the burden of a full-length play.
Nonetheless, it is impossible not to be seduced by Forkbeard's theatrical inventiveness and tongue-in-cheek humour. It is no surprise that this show was originally constructed from a storyboard, with the various elements including cinematography (by Robin Thorburn), animation (by Tim Britton), puppetry, the use of a revolve, sound effects and voiceover combining in a virtuosic display of stagecraft. In addition to the hilariously fruity performances, there are some nice visual gags, such as the actors on stage seeming to jump in and out of the action on film, and the balloon-like 'pumping up' of Lilyhair's head. The link to Poe may be tenuous but only the po-faced would fail to enjoy this show.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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