Struggling to write a follow-up play after her debut smash hit, the writer (Tamara Lawrance) rents a Brighton room from a landlady (Imogen Doel) in hopes of breaking through her writer’s block. When Doel’s Landlady reveals to Lawrance her hideous - and cartoonish - eye condition, Lawrance becomes haunted by the vulture-like orb that sees right through her. Interspersed are scenes with the Detective (David Carlyle) interrogating Lawrance’s Writer over the whereabouts of a missing woman.
Neilson and designer Francis O’Connor cleverly merge 19th century gothic imagery with old Hollywood horror. A cinematic beginning reveals O’Connor’s set, all crooked and elongated, with high windows and ominous wood floorboards. Eerily white spheres – moons, eggs, eyes – become more prominent and outlandish, reflecting the writer’s increased obsession and fear.
Lawrance is excellent, emphasising the unreliability of her character by shifting from righteous artist to sympathetic friend to frenzied murderer. Doel and Carlyle are both phenomenal as well, capitalising on their instinctive knack at comedy to bring most of the evening’s laughs.
While Neilson is mostly successful at extending Poe’s short story into a two-act play, there are some pitfalls. The urgency and intensity halts throughout the elongated dream sequences, and there's a levity around some of the subject matter that feels discourteous. The highly referential theatre jokes, while funny to an press-night audience full of theatre-insiders, might be alienating and stale to those outside the industry. And the ending is an unnecessary twist, one that makes the rest of this crafted adaptation look slightly messy.
In general, Neilson’s The Tell-Tale Heart acts as a sort of cautionary tale directed at artists. Art itself becomes the tell-tale heart, throbbing incessantly in the artist’s mind and leaving traces of guilt and evidence of past crimes. If not a bit inward-looking, Neilson’s The Tell-Tale Heart is an entertaining adaptation that twists this reverberating thriller into a theatrical tour de force.
|What||The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
05 Dec 18 – 09 Jan 19, 7:30 PM – 9:50 PM
|Price||£15 - £45|
|Website||Click here for more information|