After a very successful outdoor summer season with a fun “Hound of the Baskerville “and an excellent “Camelot”, Paul Hart the Artistic Director of The Watermill near Newbury launches a socially distanced indoor season with a revival of “Bloodshot” which previously played the venue in 2011. It is a tour de force performance by Simon Slater in a very safe feeling, well thought out venue.
To comply with Government Step 4 guidance for indoor performances the team at the Watermill have adjusted the audience flows and the seating plan to create a compliant environment. We enter through the restaurant and are guided to a reserved table where drinks orders are delivered before the show and at the interval. The usual restaurant buffet is replaced by a two-course menu served to the pre-booked table. Masks are required to be worn throughout the visit except while eating or drinking at your table. The one-way system guides you to your seat and each row has been restricted to just four or five seats avoiding the need to push past other audience members and the staggered layout creates natural distance between each party. The effect reduces capacity to 37% of the tiny venue, sold in parties of 1, 2,3,4 or 5 but inevitably matching this to demand leaves some empty seats. It works extremely smoothly and the wonderful staff make it welcoming and enjoyable despite the masks. However, the atmosphere in the auditorium is muted by the social distancing creating a bigger challenge for the performers in getting a response. Slater rises to this challenge tremendously.
The title “Bloodshot” has a triple meaning reflecting the bloodshot eyes of the central character a drunken Derek Eveleigh, his professional career as a former police photographer capturing crime scenes and the deadly impact of a small black revolver. Slater creates the sense of time and place with its characters set in the seedy Soho world of 1957 with a great physical presence, good comic timing and slick switches of accents. In the course of the play, he gets to show off his range of skills as he conjures up each character with minimal costume adjustments.
Derek is the former policeman during the Second World War whose horror at some of the scenes he is required to capture on his Leica Camera drives him to drink. He becomes a photographer for the Picture Post until it closes in 1957 so when we meet him he is hard up and regularly drunk in his Pimlico basement flat. When an envelope drops through his door he is sucked into a mysterious mission which brings him to meet a dubious group of men in Soho, all played by Slater. Alexander Kosov is the Russian magician and owner of the Rexandale restaurant who celebrates the launch of the Sputnik 1 launch on 4th October 1957 with two other Soho entertainers. Kenny Mckinnley is an Irish comic who plays the Ukekele at the Windmill Theatre and Joey Bryant is the American saxophonist playing swing jazz at the Flamingo Club in Wardour street but is fearful of the emerging rock and roll. What secrets do they share and who is behind the envelope that drops through his door? As the mystery deepens will Derek unravel the truth before the Detective Ronnie Grey, also played by Slater.
The plot twists and turns and with the help of some of the excellent lighting by David Kidd, nice sound effects, effective back projection and strong direction by Patrick Sandford, Slater is able to set the atmospheric scenes, entertain us as if we are members of the audience for each of the clubs and suck us into the mystery. Douglas Post’s script evokes memories of a Philip Marlowe private detective story, reflects the racist and sexual attitudes of the late fifties and has some memorable lines like you are ” not drunk if you can lay on the floor without holding on”!
It is a compelling one-man performance, fast-paced, humorous and showing off Slater’s talents. It deserves a bigger audience but the warm applause at the end was fully deserved not just for his efforts but those of this theatre and staff at getting the show open and showing the bigger venues that by clever programming, careful attention to safety and some creative thinking about meeting our challenges we can get back to watching and enjoying live performances.
Review by Nick Wayne
Seat: Stalls, Row B | Price of Ticket: £25