“It’s Very Deep & Groovy” When Launch Pad Theatre Dances to E.A. Poe’s Red Death

Show times:
October 20, 21, 27, 28 at 7:00pm and 9:00pm
October 24, 25, 26, 30, 31 at 8:00pm

Tickets available via www.thecastle.ca or call 250-592-5323 to book.
This show will also return for 2018 during the same month. Interested? Consider making a trip to Victoria, BC to experience Halloween 2018 like never before.

Launch Pad Theatre‘s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe‘s best known stories into one work is not wrapped under the masque of, but with the approach of the Red Death. This seminal work is also the title of this production. It acts as a container for other narratives as audiences are treated to a partial tour of the historic Craigdarroch Castle located in Victoria, BC. A few new areas are used so the hosts of this gathering — Prospero (David Radford), Virginia (Christina Patterson), Christopher (Jared Gowen), Elizabeth (Diana Nielsen) and Vincent (Trevor Hinton) — can divert everyone from the chaos outside. Instead of the gothic, this take is set in the 70’s at the height of the disco craze.

Life in this palace is pretty groovy. Prospero tells us why we have all gathered and to prevent discord from happening, folks are broken up into smaller groups so the party can continue in other chambers. Here and away from their leader’s prying ears, personal stories are shared and they are from the master of the macabre’s library of works. Three out of the eight tales will get heard in one night. As for which of them will be known depends on the colour-coded key folks get to choose before the start of the show.

Craigdorrach Castle by a Pale Moon Light
Photo by Ed Sum

During the debut night and the second viewing, rain was bashing the hillside. Perhaps Mother Nature was playing along, having her tears symbolize the plague. Those waiting outside were subject to brisk chills and fortunately, many did not have to wait long to enter.

As with many a past production from this troupe, the show is an intimate affair. You are with the performers front and centre. Unlike previous performances I been to where going up and down the stairs is a workout, this aspect has become minimized over the years. The stairwell is more often used as the stage, and it works to emphasize the worry of what “The Dark Tower” up above represents.

This performance is a loving tribute to Poe. Radford expertly trims down each tale to a shortened form which maintains the essence of Poe’s work but updated to reflect a different era. The Pit and the Pendulum is one such tale made to reflect the horrors of survival in a POW camp. The pain Prospero felt in his take of Ligeia is spine-tingling. When theatre-goers are very close to the action, you can see it in their eyes. I returned to see this show again, and to watch it from a different position makes the shift from viewing far away to close-up truly invigorating. Plus, the lighting design by Karen Stack makes the different coloured rooms in Poe’s story come to life. When the actors play with the lamps, the emphasis of light and darkness really shows. An unintentional prop, a ticking clock in the library, made The Fall of the House of Usher all the more thrilling. The Pit and the Pendulum made effective use of the set (a flight of stairs) to reflect upon the slow, maddening, descent of the said device about to cut Vincent apart.

Colour Photos by Derek Ford Photography

The 70’s aesthetic is a perfect time to set this tale in. Most historians will agree this era was a time of cultural upheaval. The concept of free-love and the truth will set you free in Prospero’s madness is at the heart of this production. The realization of the US involvement in the Vietnam War in Hinton’s take with The Pit and the Pendulum is noteworthy. And the development of civil rights can be sensed in this version of the Tell-Tale Heart. Instead of a male killer wrought with guilt, Liz discusses how she tends to be abused until she can put her “boss” six feet under.

We are led to feel safe in a pleasure palace. We are asked by the cast a few times if we want to confess our sins. Amusingly, no one wants to say anything. While Prospero forces audiences to look outside to realize the stain of the ‘Red Death’ is not going to be washed away by hiding, just what is explored in this play goes beyond simply providing this year’s Halloween entertainment.

Radford must have put a lot of thought behind which stories are to be performed. He certainly got me thinking. These tales accumulate to describing how troubled each soul here is, what they fear and whether or not they can ascend to heaven or fall into disgrace — to live in hell. There are seven rooms (including the final black chamber) to explore and seven deadly sins. Dante counts nine circles in his literary work. But can anyone truly escape their demons?

With this multi-faceted narrative, participants are not being made to recall the classic moment where Lon Chaney graced the party in the silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera. Instead, audiences are treated to a historically accurate depiction, as revealed by Radford, to how black plague victims were taken care of by doctors wearing an oddly shaped mask. That’s not the thing anyone wants to last see before dying and perhaps the tale is actually taking place in a sanitorium. Upon death, most folks realize their mortality. Are we hiding from our own mistakes, our own guilt? Or, will we let it fester until it consumes us? Those answers are not really revealed, but in the groove of the 70’s era, the party isn’t over until the fat lady sings.

(Article updated Sun, Oct 22, 2017)

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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