I’ve long been a Lovecraft fan, probably as long as I could read. I am sure my mother had some of his works, and given I read through all her books, I must have read him first when I was five or six. Of course, then I got to my teenage years, and read them all again. In more modern times, everything he every wrote can be obtained on the Kindle for about one Great British Pound Sterling, so I re-read them all again.
Then Eldest Male Child mentioned something to me. He passed a flyer tacked to the railing in town (nestled alongside the promos for operas, open air theatre, lunchtime organ recitals and the like) for a play. Not any ordinary play, but two Lovecraft stories. In the Cambridge Union no less. This…intrigued me. And how could I not go?
Staged by a new company, Shedload Theatre, I had no idea what to think. Which was good. But what would they do to my long-beloved, never-understood Howard Phillips? And also, the two being performed: ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’ and ‘The Temple’. An…interesting choice. As it happens, two very, very good choices.
How would you stage Lovecraft? Certainly not in the way many disasterous films have been made. (I made the mistake of catching ‘Beyond Re-animator’ once, a while ago. My main thought was ‘why are all those busty nurses wearing such tacky pr0n outfits…oh, right.’) Given the first-and-a-half person story modes, perhaps a minimal set?
Actually, it was superbly staged. All dark, a lecturn for the narrator and live sound effects off-stage. The sounds effects were fantastic. Proper gravel, real trowel, superb effect. Crashes, bangs, mad, manic whisperings. The only props used was that to represent the ‘electonic telephone’ that Carter uses to talk to Warren at one point. Tins connected by a string, along the length of the Union. A nice touch.
Two voices in ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’, the interplay was quite good, although I could have done with a little less plummy Brannagh from the chap who played Warren, but that is certainly only a personal feeling, and not one that detracted from the performance. The mad, manic whispers during the prolonged submersion of the submariners in ‘The Temple’ worked well, kudos to those providing that, it was great.
The single torch underlighting each narraror was fine, but I felt the room could have been darker. Although hard to do given it was the height of summer, and the curtains all pulled, with no aircon, made the room stifling hot. Which actually made the tension heighten. No one made a sound, you could feel the audience being drawn in. (In fact, I had to resist making a muwhahahah to the young lady in front of me, thereby causing her to jump out of her skin. But resist I did. As I didn’t want to be arrested/thrown out/banned from their next performance.)
From buying the tickets (two quid! No, seriously, two quid!), the troupe (do I call them a troupe? A company?) were friendly, professional and the little niggles during the performance hardly worth mentioning. I’d have happily paid over double for that. And I hope they doing more. The styling of the tickets, the information posters (tentacles out the bottom of the phone for ‘turn your mobile off’ nice little touches), the whole ambiance, I enjoyed.
I’d love to see them get more ambitious, and perhaps reimagine something like ‘The Colour Out of Space’ (being my personal fave). Or maybe some Poe. Or Milton, even. But the Lovecraft stories worked fantastically. In fact, far better than I hoped. Thinking on it, maybe even outdoors, we have plenty of college grounds around. Movement and space, immersive Lovecraft. Get on it, chaps!