Deep in the bowels of the Peer Hat, we wait with anticipation for Poezest, the reimagining of Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic tales. Bathed in darkness, with swirling disco lights and a projection of hellish images on the stage area, two ghastly looking nurses gaze upon the audience with distain and the ominous haunting music is looped over the speakers.
My initial research tells me that this production by Mike Bennett (who has written for everyone from Rik Mayall to Edd the Duck) started as an audio book, then a one man play, and has morphed into the extravaganza we see before us. After a short run in London’s Bloomsbury Theatre Studio, this is the first production outside of the smoke.
It is one of the big draws of Manchester Fringe Festival this year, not least because Bennett has lured in genuine goth royalty, Dr and the Medics frontman Clive Jackson to play chief protagonist Robert Jones. Mike Bennett himself, for this run, is playing the Joker-like Dr Raven.
The production is basically spoken word, and I have to say, the difference between the two performers is stark. Bennett caws and shrieks like his feathered namesake, preening and prancing about the stage in a manner that is as comic as it is sinister. Jackson on the other hand, is disappointingly one note in his delivery, although he does affect several accents for the cast of thousands in his story. I was expecting a lot more stage presence from someone I have seen conduct a 5000 strong crowd singing ‘Spirit in the Sky’ in unison at Wychwood Festival. Matt Berry of Toast of London fame was initially attached to this project, and, well, we can only dream of what he would have done with this script.
After and inexplicable 10 minute interval (in an hour long show…!?) the production does pick up the pace with more interaction between Dr Raven and Jones in the Asylum. The ‘medics’ Tar and Feather are given more to do, but again, I feel there is a big discrepancy in acting chops between the two.
I think Poezest is a very ambitious and well presented piece of work, but bringing a non-actor in, to draw in the Goth crowds, has reduced it. Were Bennett, or Lanah P (of Comic Strip Presents fame), who played Dr Raven in London, playing all the characters in a one man show, I feel the end result would be different.