Writer: H.P Lovecraft
Adaptor: Michael Sabbaton
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Sometimes less is more. Previous adaptations of the works of H P Lovecraft by Michael Sabbaton have featured two tales in a single show. Lovecraft’s theme of the danger of mortals messing around with the unknown tends to re-occur and the sense of over-familiarity weakened the impact of the tales. ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’ is more powerful for being performed as a solo piece.
Harley Warren hopes to exploit Randolph Carter’s natural affinity with the supernatural to gain access to occult knowledge concealed in an underground tomb. But Warren’s success puts both men at risk.
As well as adapting the story Sabbaton is the sole performer. ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’ makes excellent use of the theatrical atmosphere to encourage the audience to take part by using their imagination. Sabbaton is aware that any literal depiction of Lovecraft’s creatures would be a disappointment. Instead Sabbaton uses discrete lighting and startling guttural sound effects to suggest the approach of something obscene – a technique that works perfectly.
Although Sabbaton is able to establish a sense of dread he struggles to maintain the tension for the full running time of the play. There is actually very little incident in the story. The intimate setting of the theatre does not allow Warren’s entry to the tomb to be shown. The excitement of watching dangerous action is absent and so too is any sense of physical, rather than mystical, peril. Sabbaton relies on suggestion to create a mood of unease – an absence of detail makes an action undertaken by Carter seem all the more disturbing. But there are limits to the success of the technique. Long mystical rituals performed in silence by Warren start to feel like they are included to pad out the play.
Character development is not sufficient to compensate for the lack of incident. The source material does not allow Sabbaton to draw out any satisfying psychological aspects from the sketchily drawn characters. Their nature is spelt out early and there is little deviation – Warren is manipulative and heedless of risk and Carter is compliant and easily led – possibly even in love with Warren. Sabbaton shows the torment experienced by Carter when he realises that he has been exploited but this has no impact on the story – there is no sense that either man will deviate from the path upon which they have set.
The approach taken by Michael Sabbaton shows how theatre can be used to stimulate the imagination of the audience. Despite his passionate performance, however, the lack of drama in the original material limits the extent of audience involvement.