REVIEW: Simon Slater in Bloodshot, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: sjt.uk.com/whatson or 01723 370541
SIMON Slater in Bloodshot? Make that a quartet of Simon Slaters in Bloodshot, a one-man, four-part noir tale of murder, vaudeville, magic and jazz, wherein he plays a booze-addled London photographer, a ukulele-strumming Irish comedian, an American saxophonist and a Russian magician.
In this Covid-restricted new theatre age of small casts and bubbles, Scarborough-born Slater’s Swiss Army Knife of skills makes him perfect for the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s return to live performances when even the Christmas show, The Snow Queen, will be a solo piece for Polly Lister.
Save for a quick look-around the Pavilion Theatre on the Cromer Pier while on holiday in Norfolk earlier this month, Wednesday night marked the first time CharlesHutchPress had set foot in a theatre auditorium since Pick Me Up Theatre’s Tom’s Midnight Garden at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, on March 13.
Rather than the clock striking 13, time came to a devastating stop for theatres only three days later, but the SJT has come out of hibernation this autumn, first for films upstairs in the McCarthy and now for theatre shows too.
A one-way system is in operation at the former Odeon Art Deco building, where you still enter through the familiar glass doors, but exit by the usually unseen back stairs. You take a temperature test, screen the NHS test and trace app, apply hand sanitiser and make your way to your seat, rather than to the bar, although drinks can be ordered from the ushers, ever busy on the stairways with trays in hand and sanitiser at hand.
No exhibition is in place on the corridor, no programmes are available, but the shop is still open.
The 569 capacity in The Round is reduced to 80 for this show, with the audience on three sides only, each available socially distanced seat marked with a tick that makes you feel positive about being back in a theatre at last.
Yet how strange it feels. Normally 80 in the house would represent a flop; now it is a full house and a cause for celebration. Wearing a mask throughout your time in the building is the new norm. We must adjust, and so must the performer, as Slater observes. “You know that theatre expression, ‘you can’t hear a smile’. Well, now you can’t see one either,” he says, comparing his experience to playing to 70 Lone Rangers.
It feels good to break the ice with the first laugh and to burst into applause when Slater sings a song like an Irish variation on George Formby, or plays the jazz sax from behind dark glasses or munches his way through razor blades before regurgitating them on a piece of string in a magic routine rooted in his childhood love of Dinsdale’s, the Famous Joke & Trick Shop on the Scarborough sea front.
Now an associate artist at the SJT, Slater knows the theatre well, just as he knows Bloodshot well. He has chalked up 300 performances in the nine years since asking American playwright and good friend Douglas Post to write him a solo thriller over a late-night drink in a Chicago bar.
He last performed Bloodshot four years ago in Chicago before returning to the “only one-man thriller I’ve ever heard of”, but now attuning to the loneliness of the socially-distanced solo performer at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury, for four weeks this autumn under the fluent direction of Patrick Sandford.
Now comes the Scarborough finale, preceded by a Monday night rehearsed reading with Jemma Redgrave of Simon Woods’s brutally honest political satire, Hansard.
Slater’s Derek Eveleigh, enervated and broken, is standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide as the play starts at the end. Aided by back-projected photographic slides, music and video, Slater is at once narrator, protagonist and character actor, to go with his aforementioned deft skills of magic and music and his ear for an accent.
The setting is London, 1957, and Eveleigh reveals he is a former policeman whose photography of murder scenes brought on the alcoholism and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that led to his dismissal.
He has since made a career of filming women in public, but has fallen on hard times, and when a mysterious envelope arrives from a stranger asking him to take secret pictures of an elegant young Caribbean-born woman, Cassandra, in Holland Park, the reward is too handsome to refuse.
Eveleigh is sucked into a seedy Soho nightlife suffused with dubious underground characters: the ageing Irish comic, New York sax player and club-owning Russian magician. Witnessing a bloody event, he vows to learn the truth, in particular how the three shady men, with their differing, contradictory stories, were connected to Cassandra.
Making light of a damaged shoulder, Slater says the show is “absolutely knackering”, but he throws himself into the murky maelstrom, combining his set-piece skills with a potent psychological portrait of the increasingly troubled, infatuated, sensitive Eveleigh, who is no angel among villains in a convoluted but increasingly rewarding murder mystery with surprises to the last.
A thrilling night in every way as theatre makes its SJT comeback.