Providence: The Shadow Over Lovecraft – Old Red Lion, London

Writers & Directors: Dominic Allen and Simon Maeder

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

While of the stories of H.P. Lovecraft maybe full of impending doom and demonic characters, his own life was no less dramatic. Turnpike Productions bring their biographical drama Providence: The Shadow Over Lovecraft to the Old Red Lion Theatre’s Lovecraft Festival, using the writer’s life to explore the odd family history that shaped his work, the admiration for other horror writers and more deeply explores the question of whether a writer and his work can really be separated.

At the lake in Providence, H.P. Lovecraft is contemplating suicide, unable to publish his work and fearful of the genetic insanity he may one day inherit. Visited by the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft is shown his life so far and through three Dickens-esque visitations is offered the chance to repent his questionable attitudes that so mar his reputation.

Since its outing last Halloween at the Old Red Lion’s Horror Festival, Providence: The Shadow Over Lovecraft has developed, tackling the show’s major flaw head-on – how do you admire a writer whose work may have been a cornerstone in the development of horror fiction when he espoused quite unpalatable views in his private life. The answer for Turnpike Productions is to give this Lovecraft a shot at repentance, to say that his xenophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny were misguided – “my friends will forgive me won’t they,” he asks, “they were only words.”

Creators Dominic Allen and Simon Maeder have also strengthened the posthumous discussion scene between two literary executors, having gathered his letters, essays and stories by scouring amateur journalist outlets that he may have contributed to. Should they publish and let the world decide to pity Lovecraft for his limitations, or to deny the stories existed and deprive horror-writing of one of its biggest stars. It is a debate worth having within the show, one that clearly in a festival of all things Lovecraft obviously tends to love the work and turn away from the man himself.

The whole piece feels more focused, using the frequent shadow of death over Lovecraft’s life to drive the story forward while including excerpts from his stories as though he is creating them within the structure of the biography. Still, the great artist / deplorable views frame could be introduced at the start because although the cast enjoys the shock of his racist rant in the second half of the play, it still feels as though it is played for laughs – which it surprisingly earns – a trivialisation of the language which sits awkwardly. Preparing the audience earlier could offset this reaction.

The rest of the show also feels more polished, the cinematic use of sound effects and light vividly creates time and place, while allowing the two actors to take the audience to locations all over America in an instant. The most enjoyable aspects have also been retained; Maeder’s Lovecraft is nicely sinister and peculiar while Allen’s performance as tens of different characters, physically switching between ghostly writers like Poe, intense family members and everyone else is done with an ease and charm that is really entertaining to watch.

Runs until 6 February 2019 | Image: Contributed

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