Some shows at Creation go from an initial crazy idea to full-blown show in a flash, writes Creation Theatre’s Lucy Askew

Our Henry V at Oxford Castle in 2013 was signed off in less than three months before we opened.

Others bounce about for years until they finally find the right time, the right place and the right home to stage them in.

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum falls into the latter category.

The concept for it was first born in 2013 before we did Jekyll and Hyde in Blackwell’s Bookshop and were looking for books told in the first person.

If you’re not familiar with Poe’s story, it begins with its protagonist in a completely dark room.

As they stretch out their hands and tentatively feel around the circular room, they discover that they are entirely alone.

At the room’s centre is a large deep pit, which falling into would be almost certain death.

With this starting point, we grew fascinated about what kind of show we could make if we restricted ourselves to staging it almost entirely in the dark.

The sound design for our productions is such a key part of what makes a Creation show; it is artistically really exciting to have the opportunity to create a show which really focuses on and sharpens out audiences’ senses to that element.

Over the past five years, we’ve discussed this concept with our Associate Sound Designer Matt Eaton but in the large list of exciting future projects, for some reason it never quite made its way to the top of the list.

This all changed when earlier this year our friends at Omnibus Theatre in Clapham asked us if we had anything we could bring to their theatre (a former library) as part of a season exploring the theme of isolation.

As an Oxford-based company whose heart lies in the city, it would feel wrong to make a piece of work that couldn’t easily be accessed by our Oxford supporters; it was therefore essential for us that the show had an outing here. Yet it was a rare occurrence for us to have a title and a concept but no venue.

The venue search led us to the wonderful team at Conference Oxford who know just about every space in the city and immediately rose to the challenge of finding an intimate space we’ve not used before.

Ironically, for a show that will take place in near darkness, the venue they sourced is one of the most spectacular buildings in the city – The Convocation House of the Bodleian Library.

In true Creation style, the production has also developed a life that is far more unexpected than the original concept of a one man show in the dark.

A contemporary twist has changed the protagonist to a woman, taking inspiration from stories of political imprisonment from some modern Middle Eastern countries.

Poe himself interjects throughout the story paying homage to several of his works for ardent Poe fans, whilst projection, lighting and spectacular acting fill in the gaps around the darkness; these mediums elevate the production from being a radio play in the dark to a fully immersive experience

This show has also given us an exciting opportunity to work with emerging writer Chris York.

The name may be familiar to Creation regulars as Chris has been in four shows for Creation as an actor – Henry V, Macbeth, Hamlet (playing Hamlet) and Dracula.

In between all these shows Chris has been developing his writing career in parallel. So far he’s been a recipient of the High Tide First Commissions Award and a member of Old Vic 12 Shortlist 2016.

His most recent show Build a Rocket received rave reviews in 2018 at the Edinburgh Fringe and Stephen Joseph Theatre. Chris has attacked Poe’s work with the perfect mix of reverence and anarchic re-invention that we love at Creation.

It’s surprising funny, but rooted in telling a dark, horror story in a way that stays true to the original story but refreshed in an ice cold splash of water to the face kind of a way.

  • The Pit and the Pendulum, The Bodleian Library, until November 2, or call 01865 766266