Reviews London TheatreOWE & FringeReviews Published 2 February 2018

Review: Providence at VAULT Festival

January 31 - February 4

The horror! The horror! Dominic Allen and Simon Maeder dive into the weird world of HP Lovecraft.

Francesca Peschier
Providence, VAULT Festival. Photo: Tom Figgins.

Providence, VAULT Festival. Photo: Tom Figgins.

In the subterranean, abnormal depths of The Vaults, travellers come across some curious theatres-capes. Our usual theatre habits are placid, so of interval ice cream, so ignorant of the horrors (the horrors!) that lurk below us that we must approach such fringe theatre experiences with appropriate caution, lest we be frightened mad by revelations of that beyond our knowing. But that not seen can lie eternally without review. And with strange aeons even reviewers can absorb the effulgence that they view…

Lurking behind heavy doors guarded by the daemonic minions of festival health and safety (probably R’Iyeh) of the space appropriately titled The Pit, you encounter two abnormal figures. One amorphous beast, for now mercifully covered with a ghostly white sheet lest we be frightened by a countenance too, too horrible to describe (not that Mr. Allen is any such Dunwich horror, I am merely attempting to depict to you the woeful malevolence and fear all must sense in such a cloaked presence). This shapeless form, its eyes gibbous through holes gazes down upon the long, impossible limbs of our Mr. Maeder, who (as you may have guessed by now from our unfortunate author’s overtaking by convoluted prose style) will be embodying for the next hour the strange genius of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

For Mr. Lovecraft has been driven to the very brink of sanity, not in the usual manner that comes immediately upon viewing venomous sky-cephalopods, but due to his and his mother’s near financial ruin. He has taken upon himself to cast his mortal life aside through deathly subversion in the Stygian river of his home town Providence, Rhode Island. It’s all deeply troubling as the gathered commune had been expecting a physical comedy and now we are faced with the destruction of the mind, spirit and their physical flesh casing. hw, how can we endure it?

But there is a second dead goth in the house
‘neath the sheet – an apparition who will chouse
the suicidal spirit that hav’ HP reduced to louse
With wit and moustache, Edgar Allen Poe was beaming
To guide our writer through his sadness
To the throes of prose that inspire madness
To conjure fiends from his eternal blackness
And find a Cthulu deep beneath the ocean dreaming

Our creepy friends take us on the rollicking farce that was the antediluvian Lovecraft’s career, a man who felt born out of time and place with his desire to be in the 18th century and English. The de-ghosted Allen moves between human and squamous forms, undertaking the body of the work in playing every strange relationship that Lovecraft forms, both in the real world and in that which exists beyond the possibility of meer human comprehension (the stuff he made up, you get me). It is perhaps questionable that so many of these unimaginable spectras, from Lovecraft’s mother to Houdini to the deep ones of Innsmouth all seem to speak with incredibly similar assonance and pace, but that is perhaps one of the many mysteries of the forbidden realms.

The voyage into Providence is not without true hideousness. Unlike our subject, who had a habit of turning away at the moment of encountering terrors, frequently finding any account of their tentacles unutterable, Maeder and Allen have faced the true ugliness of Lovecraft full on. Though they do so with initial farcical humour, they appear sincere in their recognition of HP’s actual dark side, stopping short of becoming a fan-convention Lovecraftian-love-in.

For someone so concerned with the terrors that might lie dozing in the ocean depths, Lovecraft was always seeing monsters in his fellow man. An unapologetic anti-Semite and racist, Lovecraft has oft been subject to the genius-excuses-vileness apologia. Whether he truly saw the luminosity at the cyclopean end of the dark, dark tunnel, as Maeder and Allen’s performance suggests, is perhaps one for the Eldritch historians, but their courage in looking unto the true horror of the man so many fanatically venerate is braver than any monster Lovecraft refused to describe.

Providence is at VAULT Festival until February 4th. For more details, click here.

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Francesca Peschier

Francesca is a freelance lecturer, reviewer, and AHRC funded PhD student at University of Arts London. where her research examines the relationship between scenography and identity in Liverpool. A former model maker and set painter, she still manages to keep her place on the Society of British Theatre Designers committee. She is the founding editor of JAWS, the Journal of Arts Writing by Students published by Intellect. When not writing about or watching theatre she concerns herself with running a croquet society and back-combing her hair to desired Dolly Parton heights.

Review: Providence at VAULT Festival Show Info


Written by Dominic Allen, Simon Maeder

Cast includes Dominic Allen, Simon Maeder

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