Performance by Icarus Theatre Collective
If you are into fantasy fiction, then it is likely that you have heard of H.P. Lovecraft and that that his work is very highly regarded as one of the pioneers of sff/horror. As much as I love fantasy I have never been a fan of horror so Lovecraft was never an author I looked into.
However, after a few months of weekly board game sessions with G’s school friends (yes, I am ‘one of the lads’- I blame my older brother), I came to learn that the very long complicated game we played, Eldritch horror, was based on the works of Lovecraft. After downloading the complete works on my kindle for 99p (bargain!), the guys suggested that I start with At The Mountains of Madness.
I started reading almost immediately, but I ended up putting it down for a while as I read The Silver Tide. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t compelling, but the style of writing is very different from what I am used to which made it hard going. In fact, I still haven’t finished it.
However, as I was shopping a few weeks ago, I spotted a flyer for a performance of At The Mountains of Madness in Guildford. Theatre? Fantasy? General geekery? I was in. In the end 6 of our gaming group attended the performance at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Friday.
In the run up to the event I picked up the book again to try and read the story for background. I got a decent amount of the way through, but due to other obligations I only managed about 70% (can’t quite tell exactly as my digital copy is a compilation). Yet, I do think that this was the perfect amount.
Once we arrived at the theatre, we were all wondering what we were in for. The book is set out in first person interspersed with wireless transmission quotes, and the cast list only contained one actor. I admit that I imagined a rather boring soliloquy but Tim Hardy who played William Dyer was excellent. I am utterly in awe of how he managed to learn all those lines.
Rather than reading out the transmission quotes, they came through an on-stage wireless which made the performance feel authentic and gave depth to the characters that we otherwise would not meet. Other than this wireless, the stage was rather bare, with only a few props. The rest of the ambience was made with lighting and sound, both used very effectively.
However, my main criticism of the show was the audio. Though the sound effects were good, Hardy was not miked. As great as his projection was, if audio was playing at the same time it became extremely difficult to hear what he was saying. Also, at times he faced towards the wings which also left my ears straining to hear the lines. The theatre was intimate, but not so much that an un-miked actor was not left drowned out by the PA system. I do think this is very easily rectified by either reducing the volume of the PA or miking the actor. It is possible that as the show was only in Guildford this one night that the sound was only off for this particular venue, so please don’t let this stop you for going to see it.
One of the things I loved about the novel version is the wonderful description. Lovecraft paints a very vivid picture of the Antarctic wastelands and magnificent mountains. While some of this was lost in the theatre adaptation, they also cut down a lot of the repetition that bothered me while reading. I am sure that Lovecraft used it to build suspense, but when you are binge-reading it just becomes annoying.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t read to the end. However, as I wasn’t finding the book particularly scary up until this point it seemed like the perfect point to transition over to the play. I got all of the in depth background, yet the intense and thrilling ending became totally immersive watching it on stage.
We all left the theatre suitably impressed. I brought a programme which contains background information on Lovecraft and his work. After this we went back to the guy’s place to play the board game until 1am. Fun times! The game brought on a whole new meaning having seen the play. While you don’t need to be a board game geek to enjoy this performance, certainly if you enjoy the work of Lovecraft or general sff/horror then it is a must see. The Icarus Theatre Collective are touring with the show over the next few months so you have plenty of opportunity.
Next week: An interview with Jen Williams, author of The Silver Tide prior to its general release on Thursday.