The Lurking Fear – Old Red Lion Theatre, London

Creators: Broken Words Productions

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

H.P. Lovecraft’s stories readily lend themselves to very different kinds of performance and at the half-way point of The Old Red Lion Theatre’s Lovecraft Festival, there has already been dramatic readings, musical compositions, cabaret and biographical sketches. Broken Words Productions’ new show The Lurking Fear takes a more traditional approach to telling a scary yarn in 45-minutes, but there are puppets.

Somewhere in the southern states of America, two journalists shelter from the storm in a bar where the terrified locals reveal the scary tale of the House of Martense and the scores of people lost on Tempest Mountain. While her cynical partner insists that this is nothing but a hoax and far from supernatural, entranced by the mystery, the intrepid English journalist sets out to discover the truth.

In what is a fully dramatised retelling of Lovecraft’s story, the Company uses a number of techniques to relay different aspects of the story which creates a well-managed variety across the show, as well as building anticipation as events accelerate. Aside from the two journalists, the surrounding cast play a variety of fun character roles, many larger-than-life, that help to create a vivid sense of the location including fearful locals, a hard-boiled newspaper editor and mountain guides with Bronx accents.

Running through the show is a central debate about how we interpret strange events, either as activities that must have a scientific and rational explanation or as something otherworldly which humanity is powerless to stop. Segueing from multi-character scenes to the first-person narrative that recurs in Lovecraft’s writing highlights the simultaneous fear of the unknown, and need to explore it whatever the cost, that drive the journalist which is well conveyed by the actor.

There is also some inventive use of puppetry and physical theatre techniques to create a different perspective, relaying the history of the Martense family using a silhouette house and stick puppets that works really well, while a subplot involves an animated jacket and hat to very effectively represent a creepy old man. There’s also a clever use of a folding table to create a subterranean cavern and a sudden darkness that engulfs the terrified reporter as she finds what she was looking for.

These creative approaches are perhaps too briefly utilised in a show that seems to offer more opportunities for the imaginative presentation of events at other points in the story, most particularly during the final reveal where shadow puppetry or haunting projection could add to the looming atmosphere. The Lurking Fear may be the most conventional approach to Lovecraft so far, but with plenty of stagecraft it is also one of the most enjoyable.

Runs until 6 February 2019 | Image: Contributed


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