Review: Bloodshot, Nuffield Theatre, Tuesday 29 March 2011

Originally written for The Public Reviews.

A one man thriller sounds like an unlikely prospect and Douglas Post’s play is up against it from the outset. The setting is 1950s London and Post’s single protagonist is Derek Eveleigh, a broke, alcoholic photographer and ex-cop who is at the end of his rope. His life is turned upside down, however, when a mysterious envelope drops through his letterbox, containing a letter from an enigmatic stranger offering to pay him to take photographs of a beautiful young woman. The catch? She must not know that she is being photographed.

From this point onwards things rapidly unravel and before Derek knows it he is embroiled in a murder case and turns to his old investigative ways to trace the bloody trail. All of this, however, is told in retrospect by Derek as he stands on a bridge contemplating suicide, the situation in which the audience are introduced to the character. The slightly odd result is caught somewhere between a story and a play; Post’s tale comes across more as a dramatic reading that a piece of theatre.

The one advantage of this extended storytelling exercise is that it provides an ideal showcase for lone cast member Simon Slater’s considerable talents. He calls upon a host of different accents, impersonating by turns a ukulele loving Irish comedian, a grinning Russian magician and an American saxophone player, all of whom are implicated in the crime he is attempting to single-handedly solve.

Slater completely becomes each of the successive cast of players, at times transforming himself almost beyond recognition, as well as proving to have an impressive sleight of hand. The only stains on his quite extraordinary performance are some minor and well recovered verbal stumbles that are perhaps only to be expected in a play that demands such a volume of speech from one actor, not to mention the physical and emotional demands.

The admirable efforts of Slater, however, are not sufficient to carry a play that one feels is too heavy for the shoulders of even the best of actors. The inherent problem with Post’s technique is that much is necessarily told rather than shown, even with the distinctly kinetic approach taken by Slater and director Patrick Sandford. The demands of playing a range of characters also result in moments of unintended comedy, as a dying man leaps up from the floor to assume another role.

The evening concludes with a nice twist, but ultimately Post’s thriller is not really doing anything new. The script touches upon bigger issues such as racial tension but half-heartedly handles these, going back over well trodden ground rather than offering fresh insight or examination. While Slater proves himself to be a master storyteller, Post’s story is not particularly masterful.

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