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A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Ororo  Productions Presents

An original adaptation by David Dawkins

H.P. Lovecraft's

 

The Dunwich Horror

Prudcer/Director: David Dawkins

 

Assistant Director/ Lighting: Venus Raven

 

Courtyard Theatre

 

25 Oct – 6 Nov 2011-11

 

 

H.P. Lovecraft's weird and wonderful Gothic, novel, The Dunwich Horror has been lovingly adapted for the stage by David Dawkins. It concerns the inhabitants of the small, noisome, village of Dunwich who live in terror of Wilbur Whateley (Rosco Brittin), a prodigiously strong and intellectually advanced child who is neither man nor beast, but a bizarre combination of both. Wilbur is the love child of albino, Lavinia Whatelely (Samantha Spurgin), the quintessential mysterious 'lady on the heath', who grows up isolated from the townsfolk and is the subject of heated gossip and hearsay amongst Mamie Bishop (Harrie Hayes), Joe Osborne (Rob Lyndon) and Zechariah Whateley (Chris Paddon), inhabitants of the town. As he grows up, he immerses himself in his studies of the Necronomicon, an ancient book of dark arts and invokes a beast so dastardly, that locals live in fear of their lives, as their cattle are slaughtered and darkness descends over the village.

Dawkins' adaptation of The Dunwich Horror is well acted by an ensemble who clearly relish the  verbosity of language in the original text and the bizarre characters they portray, but it suffers from its own enthusiasm, for this adaptation is far too text heavy to warrant it being on stage in the first place. The original script actually started out as a one man reading, and you can see how the piece has expanded around Dawkins' narration. However, the production attempts to fit in far too much of Lovecraft's eloquent and absorbing prose, leaving us with a great deal of plot but not much action. They struggle to create the unearthly environment of Dunwich in the black box set, and we are left wondering if this would have worked better as a radio play. 

On first impressions, The Dunwich Horror bears a strong resemblance to the The League of Gentlemen, which is clearly highly influenced by Lovecraft's tales of 'cosmic horror', and many of the characters bear great likeness to the bizarre black comedy. The thick west country accents of Joe Osborne (Rob Lyndon) and Zechariah Whateley (Chris Paddon) bring a deeper sense of a small isolated town, populated by superstitious lay folk. They animatedly gossip with Hayes's prim Miss Bishop, a reserved young Victorian lady who is a victim of 'insufferable curiosity'. Their conversations however, become quite tedious after a while, as rather than dialogue which advances their characters, their lines are filled with exposition which furthers the plot.

Brittin is excellent as Wilbur Whateley, shuffling about like the hunchback of Notre Dame, contorting his body and speaking in a gravelly bass, he brings to the stage a strange introverted creature who spurns human contact and is concerned with only one thing, the Necronomicon. His mother Lavinia, played by Samantha Spurgin is totally away with the fairies, occupied in her fancies as she twirls across the stage all dressed in white, with striking snow white hair. Dr Henry Armitage (Peter Adams) and Dr Frances Morgan (Janna Fox) play an amusing pair of scholars who pontificate on the dastardly goings on at Dunwich. Janna Fox is particularly entertaining as she stomps around the stage, and attempts to stalk the monster in motorcycle leathers and goggles, brandishing a shotgun. 

Dawkins introduces an interesting element, where the actors spin to indicate a change of scene, which adds another level of strangeness to an already curious play. The ensemble are devoted to the world that Lovecraft creates, whether they are circling the stage, uttering inchoate invocations or echoing a word with forceful impact, their enthusiasm is worthy but not contagious. The cast do their best to recreate for us the weird world of Dunwich through Lovescraft's ornate and eloquent language, and from the shrilling of the imaginary birds of death, the Whipoorwills to the unearthly, alive landscape of the glen or the ungodly beast with huge tracks, they do at times bring the story to life. Alessia Alba's costume design contributes to making the characters more engaging but is not enough to fully immerse us in Lovecraft's universe.

All manner of phantasmagoria is animatedly described, yet at heart, The Dunwich Horror does not benefit by being adapted for the stage in this production, perhaps because the scope of Lovecraft's original novel is so fantastical and bizarre it is impossible to do it justice on just a black box set. In the end we are told far too much, but see far too little.


 
Courtyard Theatre
Bowling Green Walk
40 Pitfield Street
London
N1 6EU
21.30pm
Tickets: £15 (£10 concessions)
Box Office: 0844 477 1000
http://www.thecourtyard.org.uk/whatson/210/the-dunwich-horror
 
 
 

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