The Black Cat

The notion of a man becoming particularly attached to a handsome black cat may initially feel a familiar experience, especially as around 3.2 million UK households have welcomed a pet into their household since the start of the pandemic. However, this disturbing tale of an animal lover turned alcoholic is no heart-warming feel-good fable, but is instead filled with the dark Gothic tropes you can expect from a story originally penned by Edgar Allan Poe.

An ambitious and exciting production

Knowing we were unable to visit The Space arts centre in London in person, Threedumb Theatre took full advantage of the livestream format to bring their audience on an access all areas tour. Staged as a promenade performance, the troupe invited you to accompany them onto the stage, into the bar, through dark corridors and who knows elsewhere, until you became drawn into the disorientating reality of The Black Cat’s unreliable protagonist.

Eddie Stephens’s clever lighting, combined with the cinematic style of direction from Stephen Smith, themed each scene with dramatic intention. Bold reds, blues and spotlights aimed to convey feelings such as anger, fear, and confusion. The surreal effect of these bright choices helped to frame the story as a Gothic allegory and also mimicked the unconventional and aggressive nature of the protagonist’s deteriorating mind.

The protagonist, played by Stephen Smith, would frequently speak directly, up-close to the camera, adding a sense of claustrophobic intimacy that would be difficult to convey on stage. When watched alone in a darkened room, it certainly added to the fear factor. However, the live camerawork was noticeably shaky throughout. Although this often added atmosphere to the production, it would occasionally become too unsteady and unfocused. This wasn’t helped by the quality of the camera being more home movie than IMAX. Nonetheless, the single shot filming technique by David Smith was impressive, especially considering the scope of the task and size of the venue.

Stephen Smith held his own whilst miming interactions with a menagerie of animals – most notably a dog on a lead – but his theatrical style of performance didn’t wholly translate onto camera. From the very beginning of the performance his energy levels were frenetic, which left little room for the character’s hysteria to fully develop. The fast pace of the production made for lively viewing, but also meant that enough time was not always given to reflect on the acts of extreme violence that needed to punctuate and give structure to the story.

It’s also unfortunate that Michaela Bennison’s cameo role was not made bigger. On stage for only brief moments, her presence could have been used more thoughtfully in order to provide further contrast to Stephen Smith’s frenzied monologue.

Threedumb Theatre’s creative mindset is obvious and credit must go to the whole team, especially stage manager Duncan Riches, for being able to pull off such a complex staging live without noticeable fault. Although it never quite reaches the psychological depths you wish it would, The Black Cat is an ambitious and exciting production that does it best to both replicate and enhance the live theatre experience.

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Reviews by Elanor Parker

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Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
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Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

The alcoholic, driven to madness and violence by his addiction proclaims, "Tomorrow I die, and today I would unburthen my soul". And so he does, in horrific and gruesome detail.

In Threedumb Theatre’s award-winning signature style of 'one-shot filmmaking' and 'live theatre', Stephen Smith traverses the Victorian building of The Space to create this eerie, thrilling and authentic 'promenade theatre' event using the original 1843 text of Edgar Allan Poe's darkest and most twisted tale, The Black Cat.

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