The Fall of the House of Usher review at Lyric Theatre, Belfast – ‘fearlessly theatrical’
Conor Mitchell’s work is unpredictable and fearlessly theatrical. That’s what makes it so exhilarating. In The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe’s tale of the supernatural provides a natural springboard into his boundless imagination and artistic risk-taking.
This is no mere adaptation of a literary classic but an all-encompassing stage installation, which transforms Poe’s haunting story of disintegration and otherworldly terror into a heavily stylised, multi-layered piece of music theatre.
With his whitened face and stiff bearing, Tony Flynn bears a striking resemblance to Robert Wilson’s Krapp. On his arrival home, he is absorbed into Els Borghart and Declan Kelly’s fragmented, abstract set whose lopsided doorways and window frames invoke a once-grand house, now falling apart as its occupants die away.
As his lines are delivered entirely in voice-over, he relies on sharply honed physicality in his embodiment of Usher, the only son of an only son, the final survivor of a wealthy but dysfunctional dynasty.
Moving with a balletic grace, Flynn’s gaunt face and glittering eyes bear witness to a lifetime of troubled relationships, most notably with his violent parents and damaged, recently deceased twin sister, played by Abigail McGibbon with a mixture of steel and sweetness. Matthew Cavan, arched of back and arch of expression, is the all-seeing servant, exuding a suppressed love for his master.
Against Mitchell’s clashing, sharply played score and lush text, Simon Bird and Gavin Peden’s lighting and video effects propel Usher’s fall into and out of a semi-darkness haunted by shadowy projections, prismatic flashes and dancing numerical puzzles.