The Tell-Tale Heart, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Dread of the dead in Poe's killer thriller
Click to follow

Following the success of his adaptation of Poppea at the 2007 Fringe, acclaimed Australian director Barrie Kosky returns to Edinburgh with actor Martin Niedermair, in his adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's classic horror story The Tell-Tale Tale Heart.

A lifelong devotee of Poe's, Kosky had been searching for a way to adapt his work to the stage, and The Tell-Tale Heart, with its sinister, brooding hero, suffering at the hands of his own fear and paranoia, seemed the perfect fit. "Since I read Poe when I was at school, I have had a fascination with him. And with this story, I could relate wholeheartedly to Poe's interior world - the morbid eroticism and smell of fear that permeates every page," says Kosky.

A psychological thriller, it portrays a man who commits murder, and afterwards hears his victim's heartbeat beneath the floorboards. As his exasperation intensifies, the audience is taken into the dark heart of the first-person narrator.

"It's such a subtle performance by Martin: fear permeates the play, and he creates a series of assumptions and suggestions about what that fear might be. But I didn't want the audience to have an unambiguous sense of Martin's state of mind. Is he leading them into the realm of a confessional, for instance, or is it something else?"

It is also a theatrical and musical journey. Interwoven within the narration are some exquisite musical interludes: Bach keyboard music and songs from Purcell and Hugo Wolf break up the action.

The Tell-Tale Heart is a very actor-based performance. "All theatre should be focused on the actor," Kosky says. "I think every decision should come from what the actor does or needs. I have always believed that even if I work on a big opera with 200 people on stage, I still think it should be about the performers. So, the Poe is no different from any of my other work in this respect. Only that it has one actor."