Posts Tagged ‘HP Lovecraft’

Review – The Shadow over Innsmouth – Hidden Basement Productions at the London Horror Festival

October 27, 2017

For me, the highlight of the program for this year’s London Horror Festival was always going to be The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which I had missed on its previous outing in 2015. I know, how could I have, yet with only two day runs for most of these shows, you really have to be on top of your schedule to get to see all of your best picks.

So as you probably know, I’m a Lovecraft fan of long running, or at least a fan of Lovecraft theater. I’m a big fan of the mythos Lovecraft created and really enjoy seeing how people take the source material and make it come alive. This is even more of a thought to me after adapting a Lovecraft work myself last year, but, honestly, I’m still just approaching this like a fan, but a theater fan first. I want to see a good play on stage. Would Hidden Basement deliver? Or would they be too faithful to the original and succeed in recounting the story without making a good play happen?

I’m pleased to report that this inventive company has taken a broad and emotionally satisfying approach to retelling this classic tale of horror. The key moments were covered: the bus ride; the strangeness of Innsmouth; the incident at the general store; the meeting with Zadok Allen; Zadok’s history of the town; the revelation of the narrator’s unexpected past. The fishiness of the folk was handled nicely through the use of puppets, as was the need of having other characters than could be managed just by Phillip North and Claire Matthews – at one point they put the narrator’s hat on top of a hanger and both had a conversation with it. Genius!

The overall feeling of this extremely funny show was one of a light touch with a heavy coat of humor and a tasteful selection of illustrative props (the crown being a touch of genius – its airy construction encouraging us to see the glories described to us – or perhaps entirely missing depending on how reliable you chose to find Robert Olmstead’s story). The Narrator was very obviously going mad … or, shall I say, feeling like he was going mad as he was attempting to adjust his thinking to a very new version of reality. I belly laughed when he started trying to have a conversation with the fish he’d been served for dinner … but how was I to know what was real and what was imagined? This constant struggle between the everyday reality and the intrusion of an external, malevolent reality surrounding our own was nicely illustrated by the rock solid practicality of the narrator’s bride, whose frustrating interactions with her increasingly less sane fiance were QUITE amusing. In short, Hidden Basement delivered a show that was both a winner as an hour long theater piece (it was tremendously engaging) and as a fresh take on a horror classic. With luck it will be revived again, as of the many Lovecraft adapations I’ve seen, this was one of the best.

(This is a review of a show that took place on October 17. 2017 at the Old Red Lion as a part of the

Review – Pomona – Orange Tree Theater

November 23, 2014

Let’s be honest: I got interested in seeing Pomona at the Orange Tree Theater not because it’s a new play, but because in the poster there was someone dressed with a Cthulu mask on. I’ve been into Lovecraftian stuff since I was in college, and I’ve gotten more into it since Charles Stross integrated the mythos into his Laundry books (so much so I made my own knock off of it). Then when I found out it was also about role playing games (RPGs to the initiated, Dungeons and Dragons to the rest), I was feeling very strongly a trip to the distant wilds of Richmond was called for – but Stewart Pringle’s enthusiastic blurblings were what tipped me over into finding the most immediately open slot on my calendar and booking tickets. Yes, yes, I want to support the production of new works, but it does take something really special to support it in a location that can mean I spend the next day at work being totally exhausted.

Backstory out of the way, I’m going to go for an experiential rather than a narrative based review …

In the darkness, you are suddenly faced with two people: a man, explaining the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark; and a woman, listening to him, while handing large, twenty sided dice to a Cthulu-headed figure. The woman is looking for her sister, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Why is he telling her a story everyone must know? Why is he dressed in white underwear? Who has convinced her to come to him for help? Are they real? Is he going to hurt her? Is this actually a game?

The lights flash, chaos descends. A red haired woman briefly appears, trying to rip off the gag and wrist cuffs binding her. Two men, friends apparently, hurt each other terribly to save themselves from a worse fate. While the vignettes take place in the square pit in the middle of the theater, other people lurk on the edges. There is the feeling that everything that happens is being watched. A woman making a desperate phone call to tell someone (her sister?) to lock the doors and stay inside add to this feeling. Is she real? Is she part of a story someone else is telling? One person after another is frightened of a really horrible death that they believe to be unavoidable. And suddenly, like a scene from the Shining, the set is covered with buckets of blood that all trickle away down the drain in the middle. My God, what is going on?

The narrative bits seem to stretch out and more richly developed characters bob up like corpses in a river. One of the interactions is about Keaton, an autistic seeming young woman (Sarah Middleton), playing an RPG with Charlie (Sam Swann), who earlier had a hallucinatory scene where he explained his desire to mark an entire city with his bodily fluids. Why do he and the other security guard he works with think there is something strange going on where they are? Is it all a backstory build up for Charlie’s RPG? Is it somehow real?

As I was taken on this flickering, constantly shifting narrative, with sinister female criminals, worried sisters, a young woman running around a maze, big city prostitutes, and the constant miasma of evil, I gave up on trying to decide what was supposed to be real within the context of the play and just let the storylines wash over me and form the connections they wanted to form. I was impressed by how buried in their parts the actors were – I found myself wanting to reach out and comfort the red haired woman (Rebecca Humphries) when she was being particularly terrorized, yet I also found her cold blooded rage in a proximate scene had me frightened about what would happen next. I never guessed who the ultimate villain would be, or what the terror that lurks beneath would wind up being – in some ways it was very much modern Grand Guignol but with less blood – because you don’t need lots of blood to destroy people. You just need to control them. Pomonoa wonderfully created the atmosphere of terror standing just behind you: because ultimately, the most frightening thing out there isn’t some alien creature: it’s other people.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. It continues through December 13th.)