BLOG Ryan Davies

NWR Issue 112

Polaris

On 20 November 2016, the Aberystwyth Arts Centre welcomed Michael Sabbaton as part of Abertoir, Wales’ national horror festival. On stage, he performed a mesmerising monologue of H. P. Lovecraft’s dream-inspired short story of the same name, ‘Polaris’.

The auditorium slowly filled as people chatted and shuffled to their seats, but there was one person who remained silent – a seated figure onstage, almost hidden by darkness. Hunched over, his feet were bound with rope and his hands were clasped behind his back. As the theatre lights dimmed further, a spotlight illuminated the mysterious man, who slowly began to sit up.

Howling wind, haunting chimes and sparse bouts of laughter echoed. At first I thought the latter originated from the crowd, but then I realised it had come from the gagged mouth of the restrained performer. He jumped off his stool, untied himself and glanced around the stage. This adequately set the scene for the next hour, during which time the figure on stage would quote Lovecraft in maniacal monologues told from different perspectives, resulting in an intense journey through madness.

‘Polaris’, the short story, was written by cosmic horror author H. P. Lovecraft in 1918 and conveys themes of frustration and uselessness during the First World War, which Lovecraft had been denied the chance to fight in due to fainting under stress. The tale focuses on a man who is unable to rest under the light of the North Star and is plagued by visions of an otherworldly city. The character is certain that his waking world is not real and calls the inhabitants ‘dream creatures’. In Sabbaton’s performance, he expertly shifts between characters using a limited number of props to alter his appearance and by transforming his voice. He also contributes his own individual style to the piece by adopting a South American accent and introducing ramblings about family members and other memories, hinting that one character was locked up for killing one of these ‘dream creatures’.

The atmosphere of the evening was enhanced using sounds and background music which reflected the character’s state of mind. He wore deteriorating blue dungarees, and sporadically played notes on harmonica, adding to the Southern setting of the piece and reflecting his repeated mantra, “Po-lar-is”. Sabbaton was alone apart from the huge shadow cast upon the wall behind him, matching his every move and emphasising the duality of the story. His characters live in each other’s shadow as they dream of one another.

Sabbaton captured the energy of a madman trying to explain himself as he pleaded up toward the invisible star and glared into the watching audience, as if we too were unspeaking stars, looking down and judging him. His confusion and frustration led him to shout, laugh and tearfully hang his head, retaining only a glint of humanity within in his eye. This transformation into the ‘Watcher’ was especially intense as he stood upon the stool and dramatically drenched his face with white paint. The theatre plunged into darkness before Sabbaton reappeared as someone else, white-faced and cloaked, speaking as a proud Lomarian on watch against the hellish Inutos. This persona, too, stared up at the winking North Star, trying to read its message like his ancestral counterpart, but he falls asleep on duty and awakens once again as the madman.

The performance ends with a final transformation, this time into a crawling creature masked with a skull-white beak to shock the audience – perhaps an interpretation of an Inuto or even a cannibalistic Gnophkeh. Sabbaton becomes Lovecraft’s expressive vessel whilst adding his own performed insanity, leaving both the narrator and audience questioning which dream, if any, is real.

Ryan Davies is an Aberystwyth-based blogger currently studying Creative Writing.

       


previous blog: Y Gwyll/Hinterland, Story 3 (Episode 5 – 6), Series 3
next blog: Welsh Mental Health Arts Festival: The Ruins of Talgarth and Gods and Kings



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