A name as loaded with dark, romantic foreboding as
the strange glory of Poe shines through, recognisable to any literary fan, personified through this pitiable and likeable character, who fends off phantoms within and without, confused and alone
Beginning at the end of a life, naturally the show begins in medias res, with Poe shambling onto the stage, dishevelled and confused, intermittently gulping painful slugs of whiskey between his literary catechisms and damning criticisms. Actor David Crawford brings a natural, American gravitas to the role, yet the mixture of fictionalised biography and scene setting in the first half, before full rein is given to renditions of Poe's words, proceeds piecemeal. It is an incoherence which is compounded by the brisk tempo of the performance, making it more plodding and uneven where it could be devilishly rhythmic and hyperbolic. Crawford's additions add little in the way of narrative weight, transforming the performance into more of a pastiche of Poe than anything else. Although this does reflect the hazy, nebulous, dream-like darkness of Poe's fiction, muddling up remembrances of people and places.
In the second half, Crawford settles into a more resonant flow, as full rein is given to longer renditions of Poe's most famous works, The Cask of Amontillado and The Raven. Any actor would come under great scrutiny, by virtue of comparison, when portraying a great writer or orator, yet it was only in these moments, when Poe's words were in full flight, that I forgot I was watching an actor playing Poe, and was truly swept along by their power. The poetry and prose has a dark eloquence that is strikingly impressive, and Crawford's storytelling becomes mesmeric, methodically drawing the audience in. Although a little caricatured in places, the power of the work and the reverence in the performance still succeeds in being darkly magnetic, with Poe's words shimmering through the sometimes underplayed or too-placid moments.
Threadbare in terms of biographical narrative, Poe's Last Night wants to weave together biography and literature, but without more poignancy or coherence it feels unbalanced, an issue compounded by a mostly convincing yet sometimes too quiet performance. Nevertheless, the strange glory of Poe shines through, recognisable to any literary fan, personified through this pitiable and likeable character, who fends off phantoms within and without, confused and alone. Though inconsistent, and lacking his own natural force, the highs of Poe's Last Night are still spectacular in their mesmerism and rich, heady confusion.