"Life is a hideous thing," we're told by the lean figure of Simon Maeder, dressed for dinner and sitting in a leather armchair like some classic teller of ghost stories. We can hardly see him for the dry ice, but it's true that the man he's playing is like smoke himself, an author more famous now than during his lifetime, revered by many as one of the most influential writers of weird fantasy and horror.
Maeder's main achievement is to bring humanity to Lovecraft's gaunt image, whilst Allen is a bundle of energy and humour.
The Anglophile American author Howard Phillips Lovecraft is nowadays best known for "the Cthulu Mythos", the collective title given to numerous short stories and novellas in which he explored ideas of ancient, unknown Elder Gods and unspeakably horrific "Old Ones". Lovecraft's core belief was that human conceptions of law and morality were meaningless in cosmological terms, and that it was naive arrogance on our part to even think otherwise. This new play by Maeder and Dominic Allen suggests quite strongly that this particular perspective was probably a result of his snobbish character and even more restrained upbringing in late 19th / early 20th-century New England.
Certainly there's evidence aplenty, which Maeder and his co-writer and fellow performer Dominic Allen gleefully present for our attention. Lovecraft was only four when his father was struck by mental illness. He himself had a mental breakdown at 18 and lived with an overprotective mother until he was 30. Allen and Maeder suggest that Lovecraft grew up into a self-loathing snob, ready to sing 'God Save The King' on the Fourth of July; a wannabe English gentleman for whom writing for money was unbecoming; an immigrant-hating white man whose "problem with New York City is everybody else".
The pair happily point out the Lovecraftian paradoxes, not least him marrying a Jewish emigrant despite his self-published anti-semitism. Maeder's main achievement is bringing humanity to Lovecraft's gaunt image, whilst Allen is a bundle of energy and humour, constantly switching between supporting characters as and when required. While sometimes lacking narrative clarity, the overall result is a lively telling of a life that ironically reads almost exactly like an H P Lovecraft story.