All show but no tell at The Fall of the House of the Usher

The Fall of the House of the Usher was presented by theatrethreesixty as part of their #wearetheathreesixty2018, a 6 weeks compilation series with 3 intimate plays to celebrate the birth of Malaysia Baru. The script was adapted by Tarrant Kwok, based on the original famous short story by Edgar Allen Poe. It is also directed by Nicole-Ann Thomas, who previously directed The Pillowman and Bare Beckett, so YEAH… That should give you a hint of what the show looks like.

If you are not familiar with the short story, you may Wiki it first, or get a more detailed scoop from Shmoop (which I ADORE since my literature study days) right here. In my own words, the Fall of the House of the Usher follows a narrator (played by Brian Cheong) who receives a letter from his old friend, Roderick Usher (played by Gregory Sze). In the letter, Roderick asked the narrator to come visit him because he is mentally ill. Specifically, he has acute sensitivity to his 5 senses. His sister, Madeline, (played by Amelia Chen), whose name half rhymes with MAD, also suffers catalepsy. The narrator came to the house and many spooky things started happening.

(Source: FlatLined Photography)

As I stepped into the little door of Lot’ng, I will be greeted by the ensemble who began the play as insects, roaming around the House of the Usher. To me, it’s “OMG, art” while to many other audience members it was creepy and “aiyeerrr”. This is because the ensemble marvelously portrayed the insects: clicking sounds, random slow movement of limbs, and repeated scattering around. Dressed in all white, but the red paint on their faces, the ensemble is the key piece to success to this play. They were the furniture, and helped move the short stories within the story; they were also the emotions the main actors failed to portray. I particularly love Nikki Basharudin’s consistency and precision; she was the sexy seductive wife told in one of the narrator’s story, and she was also the rhythm of the ensemble. At the same time, I could not take my eyes off the truthful agony showed in Axyr William, as well as the intense calmness of Taylor Tay.

(Source: FlatLined Photography)

As for Usher himself, although director Nicole-Ann Thomas had remarkably shaped the physical storytelling of her main characters, the actors themselves failed to bring out the voice that is supposed to engage the story. My confidence in the disease of Roderick Usher which started from lights on, disappears when Gregory said his first line, because what I heard was the voice of, well, a healthy Gregory. Paired with the rather bland Brian Cheong, many times the lines were drowned among the sound effects and the striking visual played by the ensemble. At times, it also felt like the two were playing a 1 hour long tongue twister game. I could hear the crunching in their attempts to pronounce and, at some points, the struggle to accent their lines, and in all of that they forgot to tell their stories. Likewise for Amelia Chen, I do not follow her. In fact, I am sometimes confused by her choices and actions. It felt like she was only acting when she was talking, and was lost at the other times.

That aside, I love the visual and the colours used in the play. The “paintings” on the wall created a befitting mood, although I’m not too crazy about the two songs sang in the play. The DJ did not got me falling in love with those ones. Towards the end of the play, I loved how Madeline’s now sweaty face with dripping paint becomes one of my last image of the show. The fact that it looks a little ugly was, at that time, impactful – I feel her crumbling, ugly soul. She just really needed somebody to love.

The Fall of the House of the Usher continues showing this week from 7-12 August. I will still recommend you to go, because the physical pieces are pretty cool lah. Click here for the official FB event page.

Directing: 7.5/10

Acting: 6/10

Script: 6/10

Visual: 8/10

Overall experience: 7/10

Featured Image Source: FlatLined Photography

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