The Tell-Tale Heart
Plot: This 1842 short story by Edgar Allan Poe is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator – we take the narrator to be a man but some critics state it could be a woman as no gendered pronouns are used. The narrator claims to be a murderer and the story takes the form of a sort of confession. Poe is deliberately vague as to whom the narrator is confessing – a lawyer, a judge and jury, a gaoler, a priest on the eve of his execution or a doctor in an insane asylum. We do not even know if the murder happened or occurred solely in the narrator’s mind.
The narrator recounts the murder of an ‘old man’ who lives in the same house. It may be that the old man is their father, or that he or she is a servant to the old man. It is probable that the murderer is a paranoid schizophrenic as there are a number of auditory hallucinations throughout although these could, instead, be supernatural occurrences. The murder takes place ‘not for gold or hatred’ but that the murderer becomes fixated with the old man’s eye which is described as vulture-like and ‘makes the blood run cold’. The murderer approaches the old man’s bedroom each night the old man is awakened when the murderer’s thumb accidentally slips on the lantern’s catch. The murderer slowly approaches and the old man’s heartbeat can be heard ‘as a watch enveloped in cotton.’ Having terrified him near to death the murderer suffocates him then goes about dismembering the body in a bathtub and then buries it under the floorboards. Police come round stating there had been complaints of a cry in the night – but the murderer persuades them it was the murderer having suffered a nightmare. They are then invited to sit down on chairs directly over the body’s hiding place. During their chat the narrator hears the old man’s heart beating in exactly the same manner ‘of a watch enveloped in cotton’ and he suspects the police can hear and are pretending not to in order to mock. Eventually the sound is deafening and the narrator tears up the floorboards and confesses the crime:
‘Villains!’ I shrieked, ‘dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! – here, here! – It is the beating of his hideous heart!’
Staging and style: The setting of the piece will be the original period: 1843. Performance style will be akin to the story-telling theatre of the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby or Cheek by Jowl’s Vanity Fair. Its tone veers between a gothic melodrama and a disturbingly realistic portrayal of insanity. The nearest equivalent would be the Grand Guignol plays of Paris in the 1900s. The set will be a single chair with minimal props / mime. Sound effects would be pre-recorded. The confessional nature of the piece makes it ideal as a one – person to audience show.
Character: The Narrator – m or f. In reference to the ‘old man’ the character needs to be 20 – 40. No Vincent Price – style ‘horror’ voice (as is used in too many audio books) but a deadly intensity and earnestness in the approach with touches of flamboyant theatricality. The piece shows a slow slide into insanity – either due to schizophrenia or as a reaction to the supernatural. They need to hold an audience’s attention for the full 15 – 20 minutes a well as show a talent for mime and commit 139 lines of dense prose to memory.
Rehearsal technique – during the process a few key decisions would be made – who are they confessing to? What is their relationship to the old man? Are they genuinely experiencing a supernatural episode or is it all in their head? Great attention would also be paid to the rhythm of the language as one would in tackling Shakespeare. We would rehearse paragraph by paragraph committing each section to memory and testing it next rehearsal before moving on.
Auditions: Auditions will take place in groups in the Everyman Clubroom, Chapter Arts Centre. The slots are as follows:
The Tell-Tale Heart
Friday 24 September 6 – 7.30pm
Saturday 25 September 11 – 12.30pm
If you are unavailable for any of the slots please indicate when you are available and I will try to organize an alternative time.
The Tell-Tale Heart: Please prepare the first two paragraphs of the story for performance. These do not need to be books down. Please also work on a short section of your own choice from the rest of the story. This should be 2 mins max.
Please book your audition slot by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org