In a Fringe chock full of reworkings, revisions and revivals of classic texts, it is very refreshing to watch a show which spends much of its time considering the process and practice of adaptation. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Black Cat considers the artist’s responsibility to an original and how far something can be pulled away from its source text before it can no longer be deemed an adaptation.
By using a well-known, canonical writer such as Poe, LaPelle’s Factory have an immediately strong foundation upon which to base their critical ideas about adaptation. Poe, like Austen or Shakespeare, has a reasonably familiar set of literary principles and idiosyncrasies to audiences and this gives the company licence to immediately engage in fairly academic ideas, without worrying that their audience won’t be able to keep up.
“culminating in a rather interesting, if slightly predictable, climax”
They also structure their show very effectively, pitting the show’s two actors against each other, with one favouring traditionalism over revision and the other possessing a more progressive attitude to adaptation. Olwen Davies and Ollie Smith, who also wrote and directed The Black Cat, therefore represent the highbrow/lowbrow cultural divide. They expertly weave their own personalities and opinions with those of their characters within Poe’s narrative, culminating in a rather interesting, if slightly predictable, climax.
It is therefore a shame to report that, with such a rich topic for theatrical exploration, The Black Cat fails to fully deliver on the promise of its first half. The second half descends a little too often into gothic farce and focuses too much on The Black Cat narrative itself, making me consider that, while Poe was an excellent choice of author, they might have been better served by working around a slightly better known Poe text, such as The Raven.
With two excellent performance, The Black Cat remains a bit of a hit and a miss. This is definitely one to watch, with some wonderful critical ideas, while not fully following through on these in its latter half.
Underbelly Cowgate – Big Belly, 3rd – 20th August, 19:20
Image: Julian Hughes