Though The Devil in the Belfry is a complete, stand-alone work of satirical fiction by Edgar Allan Poe, its offbeat, eccentric and quickly curtailed nature lends it a sense of being unfinished. It’s somewhat fitting, then, that David Robb’s solo adaptation of the story is presented as a work-in-progress in the Tron pub as part of the Edinburgh Horror Festival. As Robb confesses after the performance, the segment shown is intended to be part of a bigger piece, complete with scenes before and after the act. In this manner, it’s reminiscent of the fragmentary form in which the original story is presented.
Robb is every inch the Poe showman, greeting the handful of spectators at the door with wild eyes, pallid pallor and a frantic manner in keeping with the unsettling subject matter and the time of year. His retelling of this underappreciated classic puts a new spin on the story by presenting it from the viewpoint of one of the inhabitants of Vondervotteimittiss, without compromising any of the key elements of the plot.
Of course, as a work-in-progress, we are only presented with a vignette from the intended finished article, which Robb intimates will play around far more freely with both the story and the medium. The tale is undoubtedly an engrossing one and Robb excels at bringing it to life, but in an effort to make it relevant in today’s society, he cleverly introduces the themes of immigration, xenophobia and populist sensationalism into the piece in keeping with recent events in the UK, Europe and the United States.
He posits the idea of incorporating a significant backstory for his narrator hinging on his ethnicity and a foiled escape plot from the town, as well as including audience members with a referendum on the ultimate fate of the inhabitants of the cursed town. Whether or not such additions will work in practice remains to be seen, but for now Robb has well and truly earned three bombs for the aplomb with which he delivered his performance.
The show’s incomplete nature prevents the bestowal of a fourth or even fifth bomb on this particular outing, but if he handles the other proposed acts with similar ability and showmanship, they are most definitely up for grabs. Watch this space.