The Fall Of The House Of Usherettes, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

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The Independent Culture

This yarn is based on Edgar Allan Poe's gothic horror story of a not dissimilar title. Forkbeard's flickering mixture of celluloid and theatre combines a satisfying technical virtuosity with utter screaming mayhem. The actors jump in and out of film clips supplied by several synchronised film projectors at the foot of the stage. It is all set in a crumbling flea pit called the Empire.

The plot features a dastardly cad and serious film anorak, Bernard von Earlobe (Tim Britton), who travels to the Empire hoping to steal the world's only remaining "liquid film" archive from Roderick Lilyhair de Usherette (Chris Britton) and his three weird sisters in black bonnets.

Roderick is held captive by the Macbeth-spouting sisters (the Brittons, plus Edmund Jobling), who keep jealous guard over the precious secret formula for the liquid, trapping hapless interlopers in film loops where they are condemned to re-enact slapstick routines. Quite what this has got to do with Poe is a question that niggles from the off.

The point is that the plot enables Forkbeard to go berserk, splicing live action with film sequence with a lot of sound effects. It is also an excuse for endless series of movie references.

The Brittons and their co-designer Penny Saunders orchestrate the action with technical skill bordering on genius. The exits and entrances are executed with military precision. The Empire, too, is delightfully atmospheric. While there's no doubting - and no ignoring - the sheer inventive wizardry of this event, there are real problems with the narrative. There's a disconcerting moment half way through when you realise that the story is a cat's cradle of strands which will never be untangled. The idea seems to be that we go along for the rollercoaster ride without worrying too much about the destination - an uncharacteristic carelessness that ultimately robs the show of some enchantment.

Touring to 28 January (020-7247 4437)

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