SIMON Slater, Scarborough-born actor, musical director and composer, is revisiting familiar ground on his return to his hometown.
From Wednesday to Saturday at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, he will perform Douglas Post’s Bloodshot, a one-man, four-role thriller he premiered nine years ago.
“This autumn, I’ve been doing it four weeks at the Watermill, Newbury, playing to a socially distanced 80-capacity audience, then I finish with five performances in The Round at the SJT,” says Simon.
“Doing a one-man show, you’re so alone. One stage manager and a lighting guy at each venue, as technically, it’s quite a big show with slides, music and videos.”
Alone, yes, but Simon fills the stage with four contrasting characters in Post’s gripping yarn of vaudeville, murder, magic and jazz, wherein the central character is Derek Eveleigh, a down-on-his-luck, yet skilled photographer in 1957 London.
A mysterious envelope arrives from a stranger asking Eveleigh to take secret pictures of an elegant young woman as she walks in Holland Park. The reward is handsome, but the irresistible assignment takes a sudden, shocking turn.
Entangled and compelled to understand, Derek is led into a seedy Soho nightlife populated by dubious characters: an Irish comedian, a New York saxophone player and a Russian magician.
“An Irishman, an American and a Russian…it sounds like the start of a joke, doesn’t it?!” says Simon, who calls on his diverse skills to play them all under Patrick Sandford’s direction.
What have they to do with the bloody event Eveleigh has witnessed and how are these men connected to the woman in Holland Park? In attempting to learn the truth, Eveleigh will find his whole life being turned upside down.
Simon has been involved with the globe-trotting Bloodshot from the very start. “Douglas Post is an American writer, who wrote a thriller called Earth And Sky that I did at the Nuffield Theatre, and we became mates. I was holidaying in Chicago, where my brother has a house, and we met up in a late-night bar, where I said, ‘Go on, Douglas, write me a play.”
Post duly did so, incorporating Simon’s mastery of magic, composition and ear for accents. “I’ve always done magic since I was a kid, when there was a magic shop on the Scarborough front called Dinsdale’s [Famous Joke & Trick Shop],” he says.
“He knew I was a musician too, so I get to show off all my meagre talents! There I am, on stage, talking to myself in a schizophrenic way in various accents. I offend everybody equally by stereotyping three nations with my accents…but offending in a nice way!”
As for the music, “I sent Douglas a CD of George Formby songs for inspiration for the Irish comedian’s ukulele song. God knows what a Chicago writer would have made of that!” recalls Simon, who has been teaching saxophone on Zoom during lockdown and beyond, by the way.
He has performed Bloodshot around 300 times, in London, Canada, Vienna and Chicago. “But never Scarborough…until now,” he says. “I last did it in Chicago four years, and the dialogue did come back quickly when I started rehearsing for the Watermill run.
“But if you think too hard, you have no idea where you are and sometimes you can’t remember a particular word. Like the other night, when I couldn’t remember ‘boat’. My late father [celebrated one-legged Prospect Of Whitby yachtsman Arthur Slater] would be turning in his grave!
“I talk side to side, back and forth, like schizophrenia, but if you get the timing wrong, it’s most extraordinary. I remember when I forgot my line as Derek and the Russian magician prompted me and felt very smug at doing that. It’s a complete internal conversation that’s going on.”
Simon describes the experience of performing Bloodshot as “absolutely knackering”. “I think to myself, ‘why am I doing this? No-one to talk to for two hours except me!” he says.
“It’s the only one-man thriller I’ve ever heard of, and whether my body can hold up, we’ll see, as I damaged my shoulder playing squash with my son. My rotator cuff. It’s b****y painful. My squash days are over, which is a relief…especially for my son!”
Simon, who played Sam Carmichael in Mamma Mia! in the West End for five years and appeared regularly as Inspector Kite in The Bill, will be doing one other performance while back in Scarborough: a rehearsed reading of Simon Woods’ brutally funny political satire Hansard tonight (October 19).
SJT artistic associate Simon will be teaming up with theatrical dynasty luminary Jemma Redgrave for the sold-out 7.30pm show, directed by SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, in The Round.
Premiered at the National Theatre, London, in August 2019, Hansard’s witty and devastating play takes place on a summer’s morning in 1988, when Tory politician Robin Hesketh has returned home to the idyllic Cotswold house he shares with his wife of 30 years, Diana, but all is not as blissful as it first seems.
Diana has a stinking hangover, a fox is destroying the garden, and secrets are being dug up all over the place. As the day draws on, what starts as gentle ribbing and the familiar rhythms of marital sparring quickly turns to blood-sport.
“It’s set at the time of Section 28 [banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools, enacted by Margaret Thatcher’s Government on May 24 1988] and as a play it’s a bit like Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? with a political edge to it,” says Simon.
“It was Paul who found the play – which I haven’t seen – and we’ve been rehearsing it on Zoom with my friend Jemma to perform as a reading with chairs and lecterns. Paul is yet to decide whether to stage the play next year, so let’s see what happens.”
Looking forward to spending this week at the SJT, Simon says: “It’s going to be quite busy! It’s almost like a career.”
Ever in demand as a musical director and composer, whether as MD for Amadeus at the National Theatre or writing more than 300 original scores for theatre, film, TV, radio and theatre, Simon has one further engagement at the SJT in the winter ahead.
Having provided the score for Nick Lane’s past four Christmas shows in the Round, he will do so again for The Snow Queen, now revised by Lane as a solo show for Polly Lister from December 4 to 30.
“The songs will all be recorded on click track and I can be in a bubble for rehearsals,” says Simon. “I’m also writing the music for Winchester Theatre Royal’s panto for four socially distanced actors, Four Dames, written by James Barry with lots of routines about dames, obviously!”
In Newbury, Simon has been adapting to performing in Covid times, the audiences masked up and distanced from each other. “You know that theatre expression, ‘you can’t hear a smile’. Well, now you can’t see one either,” he says.
“Audiences have been quite self-conscious in this new way of watching live theatre: it’s like playing to 65 Lone Rangers.”
Nevertheless, let’s celebrate that the Stephen Joseph Theatre is presenting theatre once more…and that tickets are selling well for Simon’s five performances as he prepares to play to a home crowd.
Simon Slater in Douglas Post’s Bloodshot, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
The Snow Queen will run from December 4 to 30. Box office: sjt.uk.com/whatson or call 01723 370541 (Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for both phone calls and in-person bookings).