Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Lovecraftian Thing a Day (2018) No.41: Pickman’s Model

A theatrical version of Pickman’s Model was playing directly after Tuesday night’s production of The Thing on the Doorstep. In contrast to the latter this was more of a direct adaptation and, whilst the acting was solid, its attempt to stage Lovecraftian horror in visible form was less than successful.

The denoument of original tale offers the revelation that a monstrous being depicted on canvas has been painted from ‘a photograph from life’. We, as readers, of course, never ‘see’ this, as the visual images encountered by the tale’s protaganists are of course for us mediated by way of the written word. The horror is, instead, emphasised conceptually by way of what becomes something of a standard thematic trope in Lovecraft’s writing: its reality is communicated via our embedded assumptions regarding the ability of reason, rationality, and scientific modernity to represent reality absolutely and objectively: a painting of a monster is just a painting of a monster; but if it is presented to us - even off screen - via the ‘objective’ medium of the photograph, then that is a different matter - the camera never lies.

The problem with this particular night’s staging of Pickman’s Model is that it seeks to literalise Lovecraft’s conceptual horror by presenting on stage and to visual appearance that which otherwise remains offstage and unseen by the readers of the tale. In this respect, the staged version also does away with the final, memorable line of the story (‘But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life’), prefering instead to show us the monster about two-thirds through - basically an actor in a bodystocking with badly drawn canine face-paint.

The virtual criminality of this is compounded by the fact that the actual painting of Pickman’s model presented on stage bears no resrmblance to the on-stage monster. Despite  the fact that tacked to the canvas  is what appears to be a photo of said badly made-up actor - the viewing of which sends the character of Thurber unconvincingly spiralling into madness.

This, to my mind, is why Lovecraftian film and theatre often works best as a form of dramatised storytelling rather than as literal translation - its about what the monsters represent, not what they look like. In any case, this particular staging of Pickman’s Model is at best a weak recommend.

Tomorrow evening, we return to the Etcetera Theatre for the final night of the London Lovecraft Festival, and a viewing of At the Mountains of Madness.

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