Unless you have some familiarity with the fantasy horror world of HP Lovecraft, and understand what ‘the Necronomicon’ and ‘Shoggoths’, amongst other Lovecraftian terms, refer to, a full appreciation of Mountains of Madness is difficult to achieve. I just about managed to plough through At the Mountains of Madness, the Lovecraft novella, prior to seeing this theatrical adaptation – the book was more compelling overall, leaving more to the reader’s imagination in its restraint and repeated reluctance to go into too much detail, on account of what happened being apparently too frightening to describe. I have no complaint against the idea of not wanting to make things any more uncomfortable than necessary. I personally prefer Lovecraft’s approach to sensationalism.
I do not mean to say this show is uncomfortable by comparison – it isn’t, ultimately, and it is the same story told by a different method. There is some innovative use of the seemingly innocuous drawings on the walls, focused on by the simple use of a torch. Elsewhere, though, the lighting cues need tightening. In such a relatively small theatre space it is possible to work out who is speaking even without the spotlight on them, but that is hardly the point.
There are projections galore, which almost threatens to turn a presentation by Dyer (Sasha Wilson) into what is termed ‘death by PowerPoint’. Thank goodness, then, that the formal lecture style was abandoned part-way through in favour of a more impassioned and heartfelt approach. I was unable to tell Peabodie (Natalie Morgan) and Danforth (Libby Grant) apart, so similar were their on-stage appearances. And yes, it’s public school style last names only in this play. With arrays of images displayed at certain points in the show, and none in others whenever the show relies on more traditional storytelling techniques, the play violently shifts between leaving nothing to the imagination and leaving nearly everything to it.
The play’s setting is so far away from any given metropolitan area that there is little, if anything, relatable for London theatregoers. Thus, even taking the passing of time into account – At the Mountains of Madness was first published in 1936 – the play is, put bluntly, about as scary as a lollipop lady assisting children over the road on their way into school. Contrast this with some initial reactions to the motion picture Psycho (a film relatively tame by modern standards), where, having seen the film, more than a few people thought twice about having a shower, at least whilst alone in the house, because of the ‘shower scene’ in that movie.
Either Peabodie or Danforth (I genuinely couldn’t tell them apart) asserts at one point that she cannot go on with telling her story; seconds later, she resumes this supposedly impossible tale. This isn’t the only bizarre moment. Mind you, the show ended sooner than I was expecting it to, and despite being bamboozled with technical terms, particularly in the early stages of the show, there was a consistent level of engagement with the audience that was pleasing to observe.
I suspect there are far scarier stories in the canon of this year’s London Horror Festival than this one. This is a production very faithful to the original book and will delight avid readers of Lovecraft’s works. Beyond that, the show’s appeal is rather limited.
Review by Chrs Omaweng
Six years ago, Miskatonic University sent a team of researchers to explore the geology of the Antarctic. The catastrophic outcome was her graduate assistant Frances Danforth. Now, with a new expedition proposed, Dr Dyer wants to set the record straight – beyond what was in the newsreels sent to the Arkham Advertiser – about what really happened in that “cryptic world of frozen death” – the “Mountains of Madness.”
Three voices, from the past and the present, narrate the harrowing events of that journey, some unaware of their ultimate fate, some still bearing the trauma of recollection.
Vulcanello Productions presents an original adaptation of the classic horror story by H. P. Lovecraft. Moved a decade earlier to the 1920s and with a gender-switched cast, this show celebrates the Lovecraft mythos with a production firmly rooted in paleontology, cryptozoology, and the original Antarctic expeditions of Frost and Shackleton.
Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th of October at 9.30pm
Old Red Lion Theatre
418 St John Street
London, EC1V 4NJ
Mountains of Madness is part of the London Horror Festival 2016