Home > Reviews, Theatre > One man versus unspeakable terrors

One man versus unspeakable terrors

If you’re a geek (or at least claim to be one) chances are that you’ll have read (or have claimed to have read) the HP Lovecraft short story The Call of Cthullhu. It’s a tale that defined an entire sub-genre of creepy, existential horror, and has inspired a great many creative types to come up with music, poetry, comic books and games.

What you rarely see is the story brought to stage or screen. After all, a tale about madness and lurking horror isn’t easy to pull off, and all too often, theatre and stage productions settle for a miserable compromise that is ‘inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft’ rather than getting on with the tricky task of telling the classic yarn in such a way that you get the same tingle of fear the original prose evokes.

Poor, doomed Inspector Legrasse

So it was with a no small amount of excitement1 that I went to see Michael Sabbaton’s one man production of The Call of Cthullhu at the Lowry this Halloween. Sabbaton has taken the simplest of approaches to the story; it’s him, a chair, a trunk and a box, and as fans of horror stories know, one should never open the box.

With the clever use of sound, smoke and lighting, the viewer is transported to Lovecraft Country, a place filled with madness, dread and fear. Sabbaton plays a variety of characters from the story, each one evoking the feeling of creeping darkness and inevitable insanity that one demands from a play named The Call of Cthullhu. The performance is remarkable and extremely well done, and it’s always interesting to hear someone pronounce “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”1 without irony or geeky self-referencing (and instead, makes it sound like the ravings of the damned).

Part of the reason it works so well is because it’s simply one man, with many faces. A more complicated production would have detracted from the simple horror required to tell the story, and instead what we get is strong lesson in story telling.

The show is also quite short, it’s 50 minutes long, and well worth your time. The website for the show, promises further tour dates, so it’s worth a look to see if it’ll be near you sometime soon.

1: I was also with some marvellous company, of course.
2: Part of a fictional language called Aklo, invented by welsh writer Arthur Machen, who happened to be one of Lovecraft’s inspirations. As it happens, Penguin is releasing a collected book of Machen’s works in time for Christmas.

Categories: Reviews, Theatre
  1. November 3, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Even writers who try to emulate Lovecraft often miss the point and focus on the tentacles (and in Brian Lumley’s more modern take on the Mythos, the application of nuclear warheads just makes the whole thing silly 🙂 ) and I don’t think Chaosium ever really managed to evoke that horror in the RPG (though a good GM can do wonders) so it is good to see that something has managed it.

  2. November 4, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Now that sounds really interesting, not what I would have expected.

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