The Tell-Tale HeartMartin Niedermair in The Tell-Tale Heart. Photos - Jeff Busby

Staring at the vast and imposing scarlet curtain of the raised proscenium stage, I anticipate the six minutes of darkness promised by a sign outside the theatre. However, the beginning of the piece is not so much complete darkness, as a focussed and precise shadowplay of lighting on an actors face, performed to a soundtrack of “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

So begins The Tell-Tale Heart, a work by Barrie Kosky (after Edgar Allan Poe) playing at Carriageworks as part of this year’s Sydney Festival. Austrian actor Martin Niedermair embodies Poe’s short story, accompanied on piano by a barely-visible Barrie Kosky on far stage right.

The light oscillates across Niedermair’s face, creating creepy shadows and rendering his head disembodied, waxing and waning. He sits in intense silence, as the light begins his story before he utters a word. The lights grow, and a towering wooden staircase is revealed, stretching backwards and upwards from where Niedermair sits at its foot, rising into the blackness behind him.

Niedermair becomes the narrator and perpetrator of a macabre and evocative story about a murderer who is maddeningly fixated on a ticking heart. This is the narration of a man who insists he is not mad, for what madman would be able to pull off a calculated murder so cunningly?

Niedermair’s acting is impeccable, and he builds a repertoire of nervous tics that belie his character’s uncertainty of his own actions. Along with Kosky, he builds the piece into a crescendo of suspense and horror - aided by a microphone, which magnifies his micro-noises, breath and teeth-knocking, along with some inventive visceral effects which render the killer faceless. The staircase is beautifully deployed, with Niedermair often ascending to its giddy and impossible heights. In fact, he seems at times strangely angelic, hinting at the complex mind of this killer.

The Tell-Tale Heart is Kosky at his most minimal, drawing on the source material from his aesthetic confederate with just the right mixture of respect and rebellion - it just wouldn’t be Kosky without some kind of bodily fluid! The piano soundtrack (comprised of Bach, Henry Purcell & Hugo Wolf, among Kosky’s own music) is a postmodern pastiche of musical style, sliding into a carnivalesque counterpoint to the grim story.

Kosky and Poe are a match made in heaven - or perhaps in the murky depths of the human spirit. Their common aesthetics, along with a powerful performance by Niedermair, cross the boundaries of time to bring forward a theatrical piece that is powerful, haunting and satisfyingly spooky.


Sydney Festival 2009
The Tell-Tale Heart
Adapted & Directed by Barrie Kosky
After Edgar Allan Poe


Venue: Carriageworks Bay 17
Dates/Times: January 18–22 at 8pm, January 21 at 2pm
Duration: 50min
Prices: $55/$40
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 723 038

Related Articles

Invisible Atom | 2b theatre company Invisible Atom | 2b theatre company
A small dark space made even more confined by black curtains opened only a few feet apart. A small square stage. A shaft of bright light. A man caught, not only in the glare, but in the moment....
Party | The Invisible Dot Party | The Invisible Dot
Party is a funny little nugget of a play written by performer Tom Basden, running just under an hour and exploring a simple yet engaging comedic premise. A quintet of young people,...

Most read reviews

Lighten Up | Tom Gleeson

Master of the deadpan, harsh host of Hard Quiz, and heartless interrogator on Hard Chat, making audiences squirm as much as his victims – Tom Gleeson uses blunt-force trauma as his comedy schtick.

Scandal! A Reflection on Essendon’s Doping Saga: The Musical? | Kit Richards

It doesn’t matter how much you know or care about the legality of the Essendon Football Club supplements program in 2013 – it won’t stop you enjoying this original and entertaining saga, because Kit Richards has a talent for making otherwise dull stories fun and interesting. And for writing damn good songs.

Two Gents | That's Classic! Entertainment

Swapping 16th Century Verona for 1930s Hollywood, and a lengthy title for the short and snappy “Two Gents”, the text takes on new meaning in the slick, glamorous world of studio system stars and overbearing producers.

Glengarry Glen Ross | New Theatre

Real estate is just dirt, when you boil it right down, and Mamet’s pedlars of property sure are dirty.

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes | Melbourne Theatre Company

This play is that guest at your dinner party who, with one potent observation, generates such discomfort that all assembled clamber for composure after the resonating truth has been spoken.

Most read news

Vale Taryn Fiebig

Multi award-winning Australian music theatre and opera star Taryn Fiebig, who made Prince Charles cry with her artistry, passed away in Sydney last night from ovarian cancer, aged 49.