Laying your hands on a cult classic is a daunting task, especially when you are dealing with HP Lovecraft’s much loved gothic fiction. Best known for his unpronounceable Cthulhu mythos, HP Lovecraft also wrote a number of other short stories, one of which is brought to life by The Other Realm Theatre Company.
A problem with lovecrafian horror is that it takes time to develop.
Pickman's Model was published in 1927 as a shocking tale exploring the boundaries of artistic genius and madness. The story revolves around Bostonian painter Richard Pickman, notorious for his ghoulish artworks. His dark story is revealed through the narrator Thurber, who befriends Pickman and gets more intrigued by his macabre work. Finally, Thurber takes a tour in Pickman's personal gallery, hidden away in run-down Boston old town, where it is revealed the ghouls in his paintings are much more than just creations of his imagination.
Pickman's Model is adapted for the stage by Adrian Jameson, the front man of The Other Realm, which is quickly becoming Brighton's top horror theatre company. The venue is aptly chosen, as the basement studio of Sweet Werks on Middle Street provides intimate surroundings which help to create a suitably claustrophobic atmosphere. The miniscule stage is divided into two sections: Thurber’s chambers, where he is telling the tale by way of a telephone conversation with his trusted friend Elliot; and Pickman’s studio, where he paints his macabre pieces. The artwork is by Robin Stevenson, but for me, his work is too modern for a Lovecraftian ethos. The original text allows your imagination to do the work for you.
The two main characters both had their moments. David Lee was outstanding as the disturbed Thurber. He portrayed the character with a grace that fitted perfectly to the era, and his final mental breakdown was a masterpiece. However, I didn’t quite find Pickman, played by Anthony Arundell, believable as the deranged artist. He looked more like a doctor or perhaps a dentist. Adrian Jameson would have been a far more suitable Pickman, instead of merely popping up from the well as the ghoul. Another problem with Lovecraftian horror is that it takes time to develop. The 35 minute running time did not quite allow the relationship between the two men to evolve, or the closing to be truly memorable.
The great mystery between artists’ talent and sanity remains unsolved. As Salvador Dali, the master himself, eloquently puts it: “The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad.” Although many may say that Dali had toys in the attic, I bet he didn’t have ghouls in the basement like Pickman.