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H.P. Lovecraft-inspired play is perfect Halloween entertainment

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SCREEECH!! The light at Drowning Rock’s rotting lighthouse suddenly dies once again, gravely endangering the lives of seamen at an evil spot that’s claimed countless victims down the centuries, somewhere off the coast of Cornwall.

James Hawker (the mild-mannered Andrew O’Donoghue) has been drawn to this diabolical location by the mysterious drowning here some years before of his wreck-diver father. What he sees, smells, hears and feels during his troubled stay will leave Hawker himself a gibbering wreck in a nursing home.

Early 20th century American horror genius H.P. Lovecraft – who Stephen King says is his biggest influence – inspired writer Matthew Wood to imagine this terrifying tale, specifically Lovecraft’s 1931 story The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Wood’s day job, incidentally, is writing and directing theatrical scenes for tourists at the Tower of London.

Hawker’s hosts at the lighthouse are its keeper, old Roper, who’s full of unsettling yarns (played captivatingly by John Gregor) and his weird sidekick, mute Jim (JP Lord).

Abby Blears plays a cannibalistic ghost who at one point has the delicious task of regurgitating a half-eaten forearm into her baby’s mouth, for junior’s din dins.

Although a bit sluggish at times, the impressive staging in this small venue meant I was more often on the edge of my seat, hairs on end, than sitting comfortably.

An imaginatively deployed plastic tarpaulin at the back of the stage becomes variously a ship’s sail, a storm, then a screen onto which photos are projected.

Scary sound effects and clever lighting – including the dazzling use of a solitary torch – mean you can almost feel the sea spray, taste the salt and metallic blood.

But it’s Roper’s chilling stories that really get under your skin, tales of a watery world under the waves where the devil himself hangs out, of sea witches and she-pirates, legends of “the good, the bad, and the even worse.”

Perfect Halloween entertainment, in other words.

* Drowning Rock is at Camden People’s Theatre, Hampstead Road, NW1 until November 4.

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