It should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that as soon as I heard about A Morte do Corvo in January, I was intrigued and wanted to visit. Not only had I become an ardent fan of Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City during 2022, and was therefore looking at other immersive productions, but as an author of Urban Fantasy, it’s practically a requirement that I have an interest in gothic horror and Edgar Allen Poe. Couple that with a general love of the 1920s aesthetic, and you have yourself a very happy me.
It was an unfortunate state that I was not able to make the trip until November, of which I will not bore anyone with the details. However, now that I’ve returned home, I’m almost glad I waited so long, giving this show time to bed in and work out the kinks (relatable, given the content: we’ll come to that later) and develop and expand. I’m told that there are further extensions in the works, which makes me exceedingly happy.
This show is dark, of that there is no doubt. Where primarily (in my albeit limited experience) these specific types of immersive shows* lean heavier into tragedy with elements of light-hearted comedy, A Morte do Corvo is more of a horror/thriller than a straight tragedy. And there is tragedy in there. The fate of Fernando Pessoa, the famed Portuguese poet, and of Mário de Sá-Carneiro, are tragic, without a doubt. But the vibe I had while in the show, and in the hours contemplating it after, is more of a psychological thriller with our dark mastermind, Poe, pulling the strings.
*These specific types of immersive shows being the free movement of audience in the space, but without a requirement on the audience to move the story forwards. The knowledge that the story would continue, with or without the audience in attendance, but specific moments allow characters to observe and interact with audience in public interactions or private scenes (1:1s) This type of immersive show is most attributed to the company Punchdrunk, with their numerous productions such as The Drowned Man, Sleep No More, and The Burnt City. Other companies have begun to take on this style of immersive theatre, and artistic director of A Morte do Corvo, Nuno Moreira, has studied with Punchdrunk’s creative director Felix Barrett.
These types of immersive shows can also use a looping structure, in which a performance is made up of the same story told multiple times, allowing audience members to follow different characters through the narrative. Punchdrunk uses a 3 loop structure, where as A Morte do Corvo has 2 loops per performance.
Set in a funeral home called Nevermore, A Morte do Corvo uses the space of the old Military Hospital da Estrela to fantastic effect, transforming uniform patient rooms into visually stunning spaces, and wider spaces into jaw-dropping creations. Upon arrival, audience members are directed into a number of separate rooms until the show begins. These rooms are set up as family waiting/prayer rooms in the funeral parlour, or what might have been viewing rooms for the deceased. Once the show has begun, and the audience moved on, these rooms become a part of the show.
Areas are staged simply enough that the performers and audience alike can move with ease. However, that is not to say it is sparse on detail. There are beautiful and intricate spaces to explore everywhere you look. The club, The Green Fairy, is opulent and screams 1920s speakeasy. The forest floor is uneven and made of bark. There are branches throwing eerie shadows and restricting movement in a completely natural way. The Herbalist’s workshop has dried herbs and plants hanging everywhere you look. Also, in the case of Poe’s office, the sloped floor creates easy viewing of the scenes for audience members, even in busy shows. This was not a hastily created set, but one that cleverly optimises its space, reflects the settings and period, and invokes unexpected emotions.
The horse stables in the central area of the show is a perfect example of the set and how the audience approach it invoking interesting reactions. In a scene where two characters go inside and perform a sexual play scene (see, I told you there were kinks,) audience members are not permitted into the room. Instead, the door is closed and locked behind them. Audience members must move around the outside of the room and find small cut peep holes by which to watch the scene inside*. This method of viewing a sex-play scene through hidden spy holes gives the stirrings that you shouldn’t be seeing this. That you’re spying on something private and wrong. That you, as the audience, are perhaps just as bad as Vasco, the barman, who watches for his own perverse amusement.
*I was invited into this space for a private scene with the barman, and the knowledge that others could be watching through those peep holes also made for a somewhat uncomfortable experience.
The soundscape and music for A Morte do Corvo is equally impressive. I discovered only after my visit (when I asked for a particular song used because I had loved it) that it’s an entirely original score, created by Jorge Queijo, a Portuguese artist. This originality in the score creates a unique experience to being in the show, and can take you back to that experience in a few moments of the music. That they have made the entire album available through streaming services such as Spotify and Apple music is excellent.
The piece ‘Absinto’ is my personal favourite. It occurs at the end of the loop, as the majority of characters are making their way to the Green Fairy club on the second floor for the conclusion. This is a longer piece of music, at 8 minutes 54 seconds. The processional to the club begins at just over the half-way mark, at 4:50 and, closing my eyes, as those methodical cello strums begin, I can see Poe walking the funeral procession from his office, followed by the Herbalist. This horror style of music is powerful and intoxicating, drumming your footsteps headlong into doom, gradually picking up the pace as your heart begins to pound until the dead-drop of realisation of what you are here to witness: a funeral foretold.
A Morte do Corvo uses an interesting split between dance and stylised movement. There is perhaps less quote unquote recognisable dance movement in this show when compared to shows like those by Punchdrunk, but each movement is beautifully captured, and the training and skill of these performers is undeniable. There are portions and characters who are more inclined towards dance sequences, and those who rely more on acting. But even with the more acted roles, these stylised movements come heavily into play.
Facial expressions are exquisitely captured and can tell stories in mere moments. Henrique Gomes’ Edgar Allen Poe was exceptional for this. Given that there is an almost five-minute portion of the show where he is stood entirely motionless, watching a character come towards him, and yet he is so captivating you can barely take your eyes off him. Scenes are littered with flickers of expressions that scream emotion and, in a show without dialogue, these expressions tell the story almost as much as the movement.
This is a show with a central story, to be sure. Edgar Allen Poe manipulates and uses those around him in order to bring about the poet Pessoa’s downfall, of whom he has become extremely jealous. There is an element within this show that, without following Poe or Pessoa, you may not truly understand what is happening or why. The further you step from the two poets of whom the story circles, the more oblique the narrative.
My main critical note for this show is that the female characters don’t have complete agency to their own stories. This can also be said of the male characters external to Poe and Pessoa, but it becomes more noticeable for the women, since we do have Poe and Pessoa on the male side. Now, it must also be noted here that this is a story where pretty much everybody involved is being manipulated or coaxed by Poe; whether by threat of force in the case of the Herbalist, or by promises of personal advancement and gain, such as with Helene and Vasco. And perhaps these unfinished stories in the cases of some of these characters is the tragic element of this premise.
And, let’s face it: following the obliquely connected characters can be a lot of fun, and we get more variation in the performances.
The audience in A Morte do Corvo were interesting. There was a habit of loitering in doorways, which could sometimes make for difficult viewing – or restricted movement when you tried to follow a character out of a scene. There was the usual hand-holding and group viewing that can block corridors at times and, if you want to see what is on the secret third floor, watch out because you’re in for some pushy behaviour as this is clearly a popular part of the show.
And these performers move! In various shows I’ve attended, audience members are told not to run. This particular house rule is not in effect in the Nevermore Funeral Home. In order to keep up with some of these characters, a fair amount of hot-footing is required. These characters know where they’re going, and they’re not going to leisurely make sure their audience is keeping up. They’re also not going to gently move you if you’re in the way. I felt a bit sorry for some of the performers’ shoulders after they’d made their way briskly through a crowd that refused to scatter as they approached.
However, none of the audience behaviour is a reflection on the show itself. More a heads up to any prospective audience members who may have a different expectation. Put on your most comfortable shoes, don’t be afraid to move further into the rooms, and practice flattening yourself against the nearest wall at a moment’s notice for a great viewing experience.
Character and audience interactions in A Morte do Corvo were, in some cases, entirely expected given my previous experience with immersive shows; a glance as a character realises they are not alone, a hand extended to invite you to a private scene. In other cases, this show has gone further to interesting and delightful ends. Some of the more forceful characters will, instead of extending a hand, hold an audience member by the back of the neck and walk them to the scene. On occasion, the audience stop being invisible entities and transform. We transform into patrons of the club, invited to dance or watch a chess match. We become confidants as we are directed into strange situations. We even become props, used to further the story.
Private scenes (1:1s) also involve more participation in the scene than I personally have previously experienced. This feels like a natural slip between the type of immersive shows such as Punchdrunk, and the more interactive shows such as Secret Cinema. Keeping this interactive aspect to private scenes, still guided heavily by the characters, allows the story to progress as normal, whether the audience is playing ball or not. There are no delays to the narrative if someone doesn’t want to take part, and these private scenes, while fascinating and exciting, do not change the story whether someone is invited to participate or not.
When it comes to the individual performances, we are looking at some real and undeniable talent.
Vasco, the bartender, played by Pedro Nuno for all 3 of my visits (also played by Gabriel Delfino Marques,) was delightfully twisted. Joyful and charming, he quickly twists into manipulative, dark, and greedy for power. His shifts back and forth are unnerving and equally delightful.
While I didn’t follow Ofélia, Celeste the Herbalist, or Hélène, the scenes I saw with them were brilliant. I merely didn’t have enough loops to follow everybody.
Ofélia, played by Rebeca Cunha and Mariana Fonseca, is one of the only characters who doesn’t have direct interaction with Poe’s manipulations, but is instead the victim of his manipulation of others. But there is no manipulation to the very real emotions she experiences through the story.
Celeste was an interesting one: certainly forced and manipulated, but did she have to go as far as she did? The performances by Lia Goulart and Patricia Borralho were nuanced and bathed in mystery behind her motivations, leaving a lot of questions to where her loyalties and personal morals lie.
And Hélène – Beautiful, blackmailed, Hélène, played by Ema Fonseca and Soraia Sousa, who certainly has a dark side and an ambition that she’s willing to use her lover, Mário, to accomplish.
The Shaman of the Order of the Ravens is the only gender-switching character in the show, played by Telmo Mendes and Maria Beatriz Aleixo. This character primarily watches others, and by God (the better God? I’ll leave for you to decide,) do they see a lot while remaining detached and unemotionally connected to the deceit and manipulation going on around them.
Mário de Sá-Carneiro is, perhaps, (in my opinion at least) the most tragic story. Played by Sérgio Diogo Matias and Bruno Rodrigues, Mário is the main casualty to Poe’s scheme against Pessoa beyond Pessoa himself. This incredibly sweet, loving (if a little kinky) man has his life ripped apart and destroyed for Poe’s jealousy of Pessoa. He also has some of the most beautiful and electrifying dance sequences, so an absolute must watch.
Celso Pedro and Leonardo Dias create the genius poet of Fernando Pessoa and his downfall at the hands of Poe to spectacular fashion. His mental torment is palpable as the story progresses to its tragic ending. Pessoa and Poe are the central focus of the narrative, and by following Pessoa, the audience get to view the consequences of Poe’s manipulations first-hand.
And Edgar Allen Poe. For my visits, Poe was played by Henrique Gomes (Poe is also portrayed by Hugo Nicolau.) This is certainly the dark timeline portrayal of Poe. Jealous, manipulative, and almost sociopathic, he is so captivating that you can’t stop watching. He’s the villain you know you should want to see foiled, but you don’t quite want to.
There are so many layers to Poe’s portrayal in this show, from his desire to protect his reputation and esteem (which Pessoa threatens by being such a talented poet) to his desire to resurrect his deceased wife through the Order of the Ravens studies. There is a passion there that is as moving as it is terrifying.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are two characters not mentioned on the A Morte do Corvo website. The Funeral Director, who was gloriously unnerving and the reason I never made it up to the third floor. I would shake my fist at you sir, if I weren’t afraid I would end up in a coffin. And one further character, who I will let readers discover for themselves if they decide to attend the funeral foretold.
Ultimately, A Morte do Corvo is a creative triumph. Engaging stories, enchantingly dark and invoking sound, glorious set and costuming, and utterly wonderful performances. I am ready to explore the Nevermore Funeral Home again at the first opportunity, and eagerly await whatever Nuno Moreira (Artistic director) and this production team, does next.