By Steve Toase
The Statement Of Randolph Carter. Performed by Michael Sabbaton, Harrogate Theatre (22 November 2013).Not even three thousand words in length, The Statement Of Randolph Carter is sparse material for a playwright to work with. Combine that with the eponymous character sitting in a police interview room, giving the aforementioned statement, and there is potential for a very thin play.
Michael Sabbaton, however, takes the basic material and produces an inspired show. Held at Harrogate Theatre, the play began the evening with the audience taking their seats and slowly noticing a crouched character, face wrapped in bandages. Over the next few minutes, the figure started muttering in Arabic then snatches of English. The use of Abdul Alhazred to introduce the performance works well, marking a change from the mundane to the world of Randolph Carter. As with many of his short stories, Lovecraft is vague about the menace that the men are searching for. During this opening scene, Yog Sothoth is directly referred to, firmly fixing the story within the Mythos.
This is where Sabbaton shows his real talent for adapting Lovecraft. Previously, he has been responsible for one-man shows of “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Temple,” both of which toured to excellent reviews. With a handful of inspired touches, Sabbaton produces a play with depth and character. Rather than leaving us on the surface with Carter, he places us with Harley Warren and the intimate studio theater becomes an underground tomb.
Although this is a one-man show, it relies on the conversation between Carter and Warren over a field telephone. While he interacts with the pre-recorded Carter, Sabbaton’s timing is perfect, maintaining the illusion throughout. The relationship between the two men is central to the performance. They are shown to be teacher and pupil, rivals, friends. Maybe more? Throughout the show, it appears Warren is more in control of the situation, yet, as the menace builds and his mental state deteriorates, that control is shown to be illusory. Sabbaton is a talented performer and portrays this deterioration convincingly.
The soundtrack is as much a character as Carter or Warren. Planned and recorded by Sabbaton, the music has genuinely unsettling moments, swirling in the background then erupting into subdued skittering, as if out-of-sight insects skittered across the walls.
The only problem for me was that due to the arrangement of the audience seating, and lack of a raised stage, some elements of the ritual performed by Warren were not visible from where we sat. While this was a little frustrating, this was out of the control of Sabbaton. The show benefited from the small size of the room to create a feeling of enclosed menace.
Harrogate was the last venue on this tour, with both nights sold out. Hopefully, Sabbaton will tour The Statement Of Randolph Carter again to give other audiences a chance to see this splendid adaptation.