Review: The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre

Edgar Allan Poe via Anthony Neilson might not seem the typical recipe for your festive fare but The Tell-Tale Heart proves a gory and gothic delight

“I will do anything to make you happy”

Edgar Allan Poe via Anthony Neilson might not seem the typical recipe for your festive fare but The Tell-Tale Heart proves a gory and gothic delight. Marking Neilson’s National Theatre debut, it is a typically free-wheeling affair, a playfully post-modern take on Poe.

The Writer wins a major playwriting award but declines it publicly and to escape the outrage caused, decamps to Brighton to write her second play. She’s looked after there by a delightfully offbeat Landlady who, while she keeps half her face hidden with a mask, opens up her heart and home. 

These scenes are interspersed with The Writer’s interview with The Detective set at some point in the future. And where we thought The Writer’s name was Celeste, here it is Camille. Other details shift and slide and it becomes clear that there are stories within stories here, plays within plays.

This allows for any amount of strangeness to occur and everyone has a whale of a time with it. Francis O’Connor’s design is full of surprises, Nigel Edwards’ lighting s full of fun particularly in its roving red spotlight and the looming images of Andrzej Goulding’s video pass through like clouds.

David Carlyle is excellent as two versions of the detective (though should be struck down for the Company gag), Imogen Doel is superb injects just enough seriousness into the silliness of her lot, and Tamara Lawrance is a compelling central presence whose paranoia drives the action forward.

You wonder if there might have been one less theatrical in-joke, or a slightly tighter approach to the first act to get us to the schlock and gore. But there’s wit here and a surrealness that is hard to deny (the eggs!) which crucially, never takes itself too seriously.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Tell-Tale Heart is booking at the National Theatre until 8th January

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