The story of Edgar Allen Poe was never going to be a cheery one was it? As the godfather of gothic fiction he specialised in tales of torment and despair. Now, thanks to a new theatre production based on the real (and imagined) life of the author, we can all see where he got his inspiration. It’s a musical, but not as we know it! Canadian company Catalyst’s latest operetta, brought to the Barbican as part of this years LIFT festival, is a dark and nightmarish tale. With a cast of just seven, the character of Poe is at the centre of the stage throughout. He remains mostly silent, whilst the rest of the cast take turns narrating in rhyming couplets, reminiscent of Poe’s own style, especially his most famous story, The Raven, from which the play also takes its title – “Nevermore” being the phrase repeated by the bird who torments the stories’ central character. The performances are very studied, almost to the point of being contrived. However with the stylised Tim Berton-esque costumes and jerky puppet-on-a-string movements this works and adds to the over-the-top melodrama of the story. The soundtrack too has a larger than life tick-tocking through out and this propels the story forward. While the costumes are very extravagant, all cartoony top hats and crinolines covered in ribbon, the set is almost minimal- a series of transparent sliding panels, which act as the boundary between the real and imaginary goings on. The tale is told as a straightforward biopic, cleverly interweaved with references to Poe’s writing – lots of black cats and beating hearts. Whilst no previous knowledge of his work is required to enjoy the show, it could be a great excuse to explore the work of this tragic writer . Poe may be long dead, but this re-imagining of life and death has updated his story with song and caricature costumes. At times it is genuinely creepy, when a cat with a huge papier-mâché head and claws creep by, or Poe’s mother screams out to him from her glass coffin. Catalyst have managed to do something very difficult, and that is merge horror, comedy and music in the theatre in a way that is totally engaging. With all those uninspiring west-end blockbusters dominating the London theatre scene, Nevermore offers something really different and intelligent. The nightmarish surrealism creates a unique experience for the audience, where you’re never quite sure what’s actually happening or what’s imagined by our protagonist, but then as the great man himself, said – “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. Header image by David Cooper