The first show we got to see at this year’s London Lovecraft Festival, was the gender switched Albertina West: Reanimator by TL Wiswell. This was something a bit special as it was an opportunity to experience a work in progress as it evolves from the printed word to the performance space.
So no costumes, minimal props and the cast working from printed scripts and we are taken back to a Wester Front field hospital where Dr. Albertina West and her sidekick Dr. Elizabeth Milburn take cover from a marauding Fokker in 1917. Flashback to late Victorian Edinburgh and we find West and Milburn as they become two of the first women admitted to study medicine at the University and already West is working on her curious serum. What opportunities await the pair once they have access to the Surgeon’s Hall’s dissecting rooms.
I don’t want to give too much away but what I found so impressive about Wiswell’s latest work was how brilliantly the conflation of Lovecraft’s concept worked with what actually happened when The Edinburgh Seven became the UK’s first female medical students. Without deviating too far from the old misogynist’s narrative Wiswell has adapted his story to illustrate the pioneering spirit of those courageous young women who fought the entrenched attitudes of the existing medical establishment for the right to become doctors. Having said that the play doesn’t stint on the horror content and there are a good few macabre jokes thrown in for good measure. I really do look forward to seeing it worked up into a full production with costumes, props and effects at a later date. In fact given the serendipity of events moving most of the action from New England’s Miskatonic University to 19th century Edinburgh it would also make a highly atmospheric movie.
Given that it was essentially a read through credit must go to the cast; Natalie Morgan as Albertina, Coral Tarran as Elizabeth and George Fletcher as an assortment of corpses, for putting on such an animated (see what we did there) and entertaining performance.
Wiswell already has a bit of previous with gender switched Lovecraft. We thoroughly enjoyed her Mountains of Madness at The London Horror Festival in 2016 while her take on The Thing on the Doorstep: Asenath’s Tale was our highlight of last year’s first London Lovecraft Festival.
The London Lovecraft Festival runs until Saturday 9 February at Islington’s The Old Red Lion Theatre. The Old Red Lion Theatre is at 418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ. Nearest tube is Angel on the Northern Line.
Tickets are available from the Old Red Lion Theatre Box office website, tel. 0333 012 4963.