Creeping into the Old Red Lion Theatre just in time for the London Horror Festival, Hidden Basement’s The Shadow over Innsmouth brings one of HP Lovecraft’s lesser known tales to the stage. A story of isolation, uncertainty and dread, it has been hauled from the dark and murky depths of Lovecraft’s invention and reimagined into a rather ridiculous comedy of grotesque caricature and tongue-in-cheek mishaps.
Robert is soon to be wed. In the weeks leading up to the big day, he is plagued by memories and nightmares of a recent experience he had in Innsmouth, a rather unpopular and mysterious fishing town. As he thrashes about in turmoil, so ensues a chaotic reliving of the traumatic events. Robert travels to Innsmouth looking to find out more about his family tree and to do a spot of sightseeing. Stopping off in nearby Newburyport, he enquires as to what he might find in Innsmouth and how the locals are viewed. No one as a good word to say about Innsmouth and their hushed gossiping reveals the terribly strange nature of the town and its inhabitants. When Robert arrives in Innsmouth, he finds it almost deserted and, finding no way back to Newburyport, cautiously seeks out more information.
This production of The Shadow over Innsmouth is a long way from HP Lovecraft’s original tale, though this piece is still enjoyable. While the plot is essentially the same, the tone and presentation of the characters and the style of the show have been given an overhaul. This is less a story of horror; more one of grand buffoonery. The stage for the most part is bare, with only a couple of clothes racks providing a screen for quick costume changes and props, allowing the audience to focus fully on Claire Matthews and Philip North as they ricochet about the space with great energy. North, as Robert, acts as a good anchor for the story and does a great job of warping the truly terrifying experience of meeting the residents of Innsmouth into something utterly laughable. Multi-roling throughout, Matthews injects her performance with a variety of understated one-liners and easily distinguishable voices (and a surprise American accent!).
The script, adapted from Lovecraft’s original tale by Matthews, North and Jade Allen, is funny and irreverent. Poking fun at the rather verbose nature of Lovecraft’s stories, they revel in finding the lengthiest and most unpronounceable words imaginable and flinging them across the stage. The inclusion of a voiceover echoing Robert’s thoughts is very effective, harkening back to classic horror stories where the protagonist guides the audience through their emotions as the story unfolds. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the production is the rather hideous puppets created by Harriet Field and Verity Treadwell. Each is used to portray one of the residents of Innsmouth and their sunken eyes and gaping faces are suitably disturbing and when the bus driver first appears on stage there is a muffled gasp from the audience.
The Shadow over Innsmouth cleverly takes hold of a classic horror story (soon to celebrate its 90th birthday) and gives it a comedic makeover. Bouncing between the horrific flashbacks to Robert’s experience of Innsmouth and his inability to overcome it and begin married life, its full of energy and humour. A light-hearted refrain from the flurry of scary shows this Halloween!
Reviewed by Alex Foott