Writer: Jonathan Goodwin
Directors: Jonathan Goodwin and Gary Archer
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
The warning signs are in the title. Other short plays in the Old Red Lion’s second Lovecraft Festival, a week of works inspired by the American writer of pulp horror, name themselves after the works they are adapting. In contrast, Lovecraft After Dark could apply to any of his works.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, for a one-man pseudo-narration of Herbert West – Reanimator may not have quite the same appeal. Lovecraft’s sub-Shelley tale of doctors who attempt to revivify the recently deceased is far from his best work, and suffered from a serialisation that forced the author to finish each section on a cliffhanger.
But still, with a taut editing hand and a compelling delivery, the story’s first-person narrative device could make for the intriguing basis for a one-man show. Would that such a show was presented here.
Instead, we get a rambling, only vaguely coherent version of the tale which, though billed as an hour in length, runs for half as much again. Part of the reason for the overlong time is the inclusion of some meandering sidebars based on some of Lovecraft’s other works, including The Dreams in the Witch House.
Jonathan Goodwin, who adapted the works and also co-directs with Gary Archer, also takes on the performance duties. For most of the performance, he adopts the persona of Herbert West – Reanimator’s American narrator (unnamed in the short story, and here given the name Cornelius Pike). That he also plays an English professorial type and an itinerant Australian may give hint to some vocal versatility, but is a sign that his adaptation is not focussed enough.
Dressed in the manner of an eccentric Edwardian gentleman, Goodwin suffers throughout from a fake moustache that spends the entire hour and a half desperately trying to escape his face. At first, one has sympathy for the actor’s plight; by the end, one is quite prepared to believe that the moustache has gained sentience and was trying to warn us all from the start.
For Lovecraft After Darkis that worst thing in theatre: a missed opportunity. The challenge of taking one of Lovecraft’s least beloved works, of using live performance to strip it back to a version which maintains a level of suspense and a chilling denoument, could have produced an effective slice of stage horror.
Instead, what we get is a piece where the greatest horror is in the minds of the audience as they ponder what they have to do to get the darned thing to stop.
Lovecraft once rejected an offer to adapt one of his works for performance on the basis that the public’s appetite for wierdness in drama resulted in “flat, hackneyed, synthetic, essentially atmosphereless jumbles of conventional shrieks and mutterings, and superficial mechanical situations”. One can see exactly what he means.
Reviewed on 7 February 2019 | Image: Contributed