The Pit and the Pendulum (review)

The books of Edgar Allan Poe have held us in the grip of a vice-like terror for more than 100 years but even his chilling story-telling couldn’t save The Pit and the Pendulum which appeared for a two-night run at The Grove this week.

John Goodrum’s adaptation of the classic Gothic horror short story owed more to the numerous racy film versions of the story rather than the original text. This was one Hammer Horror that failed to engage the audience.

There’s no doubting that it was a dark and atmospheric piece with spine-tingling sound effects and a dark and simple set. But this particular adaptation gave us just two actors, rescued victim William Trevelyan (EastEnders’ Mark Homer) and his saviour Josiah Bellamy (Nicholas Briggs) and an awful lot of exposition. In fact the pair spent so long reciting the tale that there wasn’t much time for acting. The audience could have saved a few bob by ordering an audio book.

In a tale told in the half-light the original story, of a man held captive by the Spanish Inquisition, had been updated a few centuries to rustic Cornwall where innocent abroad Trevelyan falls into the clutches of a country chapter of The Hellfire Club. His beloved wife, Catherine, had been kidnapped and taken to one of those jolly old castles that were regularly owned by Vincent Price on screen during the 1960s, where lusty locals engaged in orgies, rape, murder and torture.

The debauched club members sentence their terrified victim to a slow and lingering death under a monstrous swinging pendulum that falls inch by inch into the torture chamber, intent on cleaving Trevelyan apart, but before that the tension was racked up as the prisoner tells Bellamy the sadistic ordeals he had endured beforehand.

In return he is given the salacious details of how his wife was gang raped and mutilated. It wasn’t a story for the faint-hearted, more a precurser to the successful Saw series which sees victims undergo one awful torture after another

It was a truly terrifying tale which the actors recounted beautifully. It was just disappointing that they didn’t have scope to be more animated. Watching two men standing on a stage talking to each other, at times, caused the concentration to drift.

Yet again disappointingly low audiences for drama at The Grove.