Show Review by Cliff Homewood

Set in the world of their upcoming nearly sold out experience The Key of Dreams The Key of Dreams | One of a kind Lovecraftian immersive experience.

This show was part of the London Lovecraft Festival hosted at The Drayton Arms Theatre. A small theatre, a pub room, about 60 packed seats.  The seats were knackered like an old cinema’s.  They were so good mine collapsed at the beginning of the show and everyone shuffled along to provide an alternative.

I was greeted on arrival by a very nice friendly young man wanting us to sign our life away for the performance, he explained it’s interactive and this was in case we slipped down the stairs.

It turned out to be a one man show and that friendly fellow was that man.  He got everyone to move seats as a way of initiating the audience and then settled into an American accent introducing himself as H P Lovecraft. This was an amusing little skit playing on the fact Lovecraft was afraid of everything. Humour helped warm the audience, adding to his already approachable amiable manner.

He then explained with a lightness of touch that the seats on the stage were not for him but for us. Oh yes.  This was advertised as immersive which from my experience that can vary greatly from one show to another. He told a story Dungeon Master style. His setup was interesting.

It felt like live action roleplay with him inhabiting various characters (and inhabiting well) with the lovely option you can just sit and watch if you want.  He’s created a nice safe space stating he only wants volunteers and is not going to force people to do things (see, told you he was a nice fella!)

It was very evocative, utilising one group of volunteers to hum and provide atmospherics.  Standing at the back their moody music and effects worked well. In another area was a crafts table. Never included in the narrative but complimented it occasionally. He also had a volunteer to provide a summary. Allowing him freedom to improvise and be various characters, every now and then asking for the story so far.

There was one seat at the front. The person he was telling the story to. It was like a choose your own adventure, that person saying how they would react instead of physically enacting it. They could be swapped at any point by the audience chanting ‘change’, the back story being in a dream such things happen. The remaining audience sat behind, called the explorers, it was our job to whisper suggestions of what to do to the person in the chair. This was very atmospheric.

The story involved cats, a nice way to engage a core audience. There are a lot of cat people and although I’m not one I loved Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns and the Cheshire cat.  There is a charm to such things and his personifications were spot on.  Not once did it feel predictable and contrived as he filled the role with full commitment.  He also surprised me after weaving a charming tale when he became a dramatic character, raising his voice to great effect, he’d been so nice until now.

The volunteer he was aiming his performance at always seemed comfortable.  Must be quite intense having an actor acting directly to you.  Quite an experience.  Yet we all felt involved as we could swap in at any time or suggest a course of action for the protagonist. In fact after the interval he had a 10 minute chat with us asking what we wanted out of the story, where it should go, what our goals were.

Apart from dodgy collapsing seats, this was a good show. Very interesting. An affable and likeable host making a safe friendly space where you felt supported, enjoying creating the story together. ow the audience can create mood. Whispered suggestions created demonic style voices. Sometimes contradicting Smeagol-like. The person whose ‘dreaming’ changed at any moment by voices decreeing change. It did not really feel Lovecraftian, no fear of evil trying to break into our universe, more somethings gone wrong in Dreamland…  I suspect this is a set-up for the larger show as they also do all-nighters. There are risks as this could become a comedy, but it would still be entertaining. I was impressed at how improv techniques were used to make something seriously dramatic and atmospheric. My one disappointment was that there was no end, it was obviously the journey that counted as a pre-set alarm stops it dead …