In his haunting and beguiling novel, The American Boy, Andrew Taylor explores the mysterious childhood of Edgar Allan Poe – mostly his time living in England. The fact that we know so little about this section of Poe’s life gave Taylor artistic licence to create an original story. And, with Poe’s death also an enigma, Taylor speculated that the events of his childhood may have had a connection there. Of course it’s all historical fiction, but because we don’t know, all we can do is speculate. David Crawford’s one man show, as the name suggests, also offers speculation as to Mr Poe’s mysterious death.
Crawford was fittingly Poe-like in his appearance, and acted just as you’d imagine he would behave. Stories of Poe’s personal grievances were told with solemnity – the death of his wife, and the death of his mother – both coughed up blood, both died of the “Red Death”. The latter death leading onto quotations from The Pit and the Pendulum; “the agony of my soul…” He later recited Annabel Lee, which is believed to be written for Virginia Poe after her death. Another of Poe’s short stories he performed was The Cask of Amontillado, which took up a lot of the performance, but was masterly done. Crawford, or rather Poe, acted out both of the characters – and I should say they were very different characters – perfectly.
There were many recitals, in between the monologues, whiskey drinking, and paranoid ramblings. Of course The Raven was in there – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room moving my lips to it. It’s an original and imaginative idea, creating a one man show about the most mysterious death in the history of literature – except perhaps Marlowe. Crawford became Poe, and now I can’t imagine him in any other way. It’s like that Hal Holbrook Mark Twain show that was so popular all those decades ago – a writer of whom we have no film our sound footage, but do have still images, is recreated for us. To set this on the night of his death is ingeniously fitting, and couldn’t be more quintessentially Poe.