The Strange Case of Edgar Allan Poe by Christopher Cook

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BBC Radio 7, 18 January 2009
Edgar Allan Poe has always exerted a certain fascination for readers, filmmakers and theatre practitioners alike. Many of his stories and poems have been repeatedly adapted, often to great popular acclaim. In the 1960s Roger Corman produced a whole cycle of films for American International Pictures, which were notable for their Gothic sets, lurid use of colour and scene-chewing performances by Vincent Price.
Christopher Cook's 1988 play The Strange Case of Edgar Allan Poe provided a suitable addition to the canon of adaptations, focusing chiefly on the notion of excess. It took the form of a detective story in which Poe's memorable creation Auguste Dupin (John Moffatt) investigated the death of an author whose life was as bizarre as any of the characters he created. We learned about Poe's (Kerry Shale's) obsession with death and the imagination; his love-affair with a twelve-year-old girl; his failed attempts to hold down a job with the Southern Literary Messenger; his fruitless wanderings around the East Coast of America, trying to find work or to persuade someone to fund him to start a literary magazine; his unexpected success in New York following the publication of "The Raven;" and his self-destructive impulse that eventually saw him meet a sad demise on the streets of Baltimore. The justification for such behaviour, according to Cook, was that Poe was a born Romantic, seeking out new experiences and living them to the full. His love of excess far transcended that of his British counterparts; if John Keats was "half in love with easeful death," Poe actively desired it, as he conceived his life as as a five-act tragedy with himself as the leading actor.
The play unfolded as a series of episodes, linked by Dupin's dulcet reflections on Poe's self-destructive impulses and appropriately passionate excepts from works by Ravel (amongst others). If the music provided a context for Poe's extraordinary life, Dupin's narration, with its logical assessment of Poe's motives (how else could a detective make sense of them) reminded us of the world that Poe left behind when he became a Romantic. The director was John Powell.