Brighton Fringe 2018
A stripped down, solo performance, initially biographical and then story telling. Barely theatrical, but quirkily engaging.
David Crawford brings his tribute play about the American horror writer Howard Phillips (‘HP’) Lovecraft to the Rialto Theatre in a naturalistic, shuffling and understated style that requires the audience to buy into his rambling physicality and wheezy delivery. As he tells us that we not only need to suspend our disbelief but “nail it to the floor” he quirkily draws us in, first to the childhood and growing pains of ‘HP’ and then into his story The Shadow over Innsmouth. The performance therefore falls into two parts, biographical and story telling, but HP’s frailty is foreshadowed throughout before bringing the show to an abrubt end. Through a combination of the atmospheric Rialto, perfectly suited to this piece, and Crawford’s unusual charm, the audience responded and went with it.
Though the performance could be more energised and driven, offering more in the way of light and shade, the performance is enjoyable. A show without any form of technical support, no sound or lighting effects, is a bold choice as we are asked to immerse ourselves in a Gothic tale, but an amiable delivery and engaging story in the second half keep us entertained. The language, Lovecraft’s words, in both poetry and prose, have to do all the work, his descriptions are sometimes deliberately limited as ‘words cannot express’ the horror, or the ‘sound cannot be written down’ but Crawford’s tremulous, sonorous delivery stimulates the imagination as we fill in the writer’s images for ourselves.
This seems to be a work of dedication to a cult author who never achieved success in his lifetime but much notoriety since for his creations. HP Lovecraft died in poverty at the early age of 46 from stomach cancer and never lived to see his work widely published or appreciated. The show offers insight into the author for those who know his work and an introduction for those who don’t. Tucked away upstairs in a dusty, dark space, appearing from behind the audience as he takes the stage, Crawford achieves eeriness even with such limited use of stagecraft. But then that’s the point – it’s all in the words, it’s down to us to use our imagination, and as such it is refreshing. The show therefore achieves its desired effect of leaving you wanting to know more, to try reading his stories if they are new to you. An enigmatic, quiet, modest and dedicated hidden gem of a show for those who seek something with a little less pizzazz at the Fringe.