By Kat Mokrynski
“Very surely do I not dream”
For those unfamiliar with the story, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat tells the tale of an unnamed man who goes from being a loving man with a fascination with animals to a cruel man willing and ready to abuse any man or creature that dares to approach him. Without going into too many spoilers, as it truly is an incredible story that should be read, The Black Cat touches on the topics of guilt and insanity, classic traits of a Poe tale. This particular production uses Poe’s words and stages them in a two-person performance, with Keaton Guimarães-Tolley playing The Narrator and Catherine Warnock playing The Wife.
Guimarães-Tolley has an incredibly charming voice that I could listen to for hours. To be honest, I would have simply been happy with him sitting cross-legged on the floor and talking, but luckily The Black Cat is much more than that. Guimarães-Tolley’s acting reminded me of the titular creature of the production, as he jumps and crawls around the stage just like a cat. Whether this is intentional or not, it is incredibly effective. There is also a particular moment in which The Narrator seemingly has a panic attack and the room seems to shrink in around him as he curls up into a ball, trembling and unable to stop the music taunting him in the background.
Warnock plays several instruments throughout the show including the flute, the clarinet, and the violin, at times while also portraying The Wife. Her musicianship is truly incredible, as she runs and dances around the stage without missing a note. Through each instrument, Warnock is able to express emotions of joy, fear, and pure terror. Somehow, Warnock is even able to make the flute, a lovely a light instrument, unsettling and spine-tingling.
Along with being an enhancer of Guimarães-Tolley’s performance, the music becomes a character within the story, whether it is Warnock playing The Wife or one of the creatures The Narrator encounters during his recounting of the events. There is a gorgeous moment in which The Narrator courts The Wife, with the two of them scurrying around the theatre, chasing each other until they meet in the middle in a moment of beautiful intimacy. At one point in the show, The Wife screams while playing the violin, horrific cries and sharp notes causing the hairs on the back of one’s neck to stand up.
One of the highlights of the show is how Guimarães-Tolley interacts with the audience, at times even sitting next to them, directly speaking to particular audience members. When The Narrator starts drinking, he tends to point to someone in the audience who has a drink in their hand, toasting them before drowning his sorrows. At one point, he even toasted a few latecomers, which got a laugh out of the crowd before they returned to the horrors of the performance.
The lighting, while incredibly effective in particular moments, especially when using colour to reflect the violence and mania of The Narrator, can be distracting at times, pulling audiences out of the dark tale. But, even with these lighting distractions, Guimarães-Tolley and Warnock are quickly able to pull the audience back into the story with their acting and playing.
Ultimately, The Black Cat is a powerful and chilling piece that uses Guimarães-Tolley’s incredible acting and Warnock’s stunning musicianship to bring new life to Poe’s tale, illustrating just how mad men can become.
The Black Cat runs at the King’s Head Theatre from 21 to 25 March. Tickets can be purchased here.