A woman wakes up in the dark: a captive, unsure of why she is there or what she has been accused of.

She stumbles around trying to find the boundaries of her cell, to make sense of her surroundings... and hold on to her sanity.

Her captors have taken her name but she vows they will not crush her spirit.

She prays to Allah, for she is a Muslim from Tehran who has fought for women’s rights.

And so the classic Edgar Allan Poe story The Pit And The Pendulum is refreshed and given a modern twist by Oxford’s highly creative Creation Theatre Company.

Not content with bringing the tale, written in 1843 about the torments endured by a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, firmly in to the 21st century, Creation has also come up with innovative staging.

In the atmospheric surroundings of The Bodleian Library, in Oxford’s city centre, audiences are given headphones before being lead into a darkened rectangular room with tiered benches.

At one hour in length, it’s a one woman show... apart from the disembodied voice of Poe breaking in at points to narrate the story.

The adaptation by Christopher York uses audio visual projection to create tension and illustrate the prisoner’s backstory. There are also great little touches like beady red eyes showing through grilles in the floor during the rats scene.

Holding the whole show, Afsaneh Dehrouyeh does a stirling job, alternatively showing resolve, rage, despair and, even in her bleak surroundings, love, humour and joy.

What there isn’t a lot of, is terror.

While Poe’s tale suggests a political agenda only implicitly, Creation’s version is much more overt.

And despite the setting and atmospheric lighting there was little to tingle the spine. Sitting in the dark listening to the (excellent, uncredited) Poe voiceover read the whole story would have been creepier.

It’s an interesting, thought-provoking play but its central message of the wrongness of the subjugation of women is fairly simplistic and, I would hazard a guess, preaching to the converted as far as Oxford audiences are concerned.

As a tool to promote tolerance, political understanding and an appreciation of a master storyteller, it does the job well.

Just don’t expect any chills.



The Pit And The Pendulum continues at the Bodleian until November 2 before transferring to London. See creationtheatre.co.uk