Over the past few years the Nuffield has enjoyed putting on several of Douglas Post’s poignant, powerful plays. Audiences simply can’t get enough. Bloodshot, in which Post presents us with a one-man fifties’ murder mystery, returned at the end of March after a year’s run. The solo show may seem like a concept milked dry in modern theatre, but thanks to actor Simon Slater, Post manages to breathe a little precious life back into the one-man noir.
The plot revolves around Derek Eveleigh, a sacked cop making ends meet taking photographs of women in London parks. Weathered by drink and the horror of the Second World War, Derek has nothing until someone pushes a manila envelope through his letterbox. The letter inside asks him to photograph a beautiful black woman named Cassandra, for the sum of twenty-five pounds a week. Our lonely, reluctant protagonist agrees and, camera in hand, stalks Cassandra around Notting Hill – a decision that will bind him in the company of Soho’s pinstriped slimeballs and leave him with bloody hands.
Post’s story doesn’t quite achieve the thrills and twists of Grahame Greene and John Buchan, but this is in part due to the medium. Slater’s acting can only do so much; and he does do so much. The play actually feels more like a showcase of the versatile actor’s skill rather than a focussed, concentrated noir. Wrapped up in the murder are a Russian magician, an Irish comedian, and an American jazz musician. If you were expecting a punch line to follow that ensemble then we’re on the same wavelength. These are all, admittedly, very well-realised characters, both by Slater’s delivery (his musical talent is a pleasant surprise) and Post’s script, but each one is given a segment quite apart from the main narrative thread – although very funny, the Irish comedian’s banter drags on and on, and by then we’ve almost forgotten whether we’re watching a comedy or a thriller.
Slater immersed the audience comfortably in the setting, encouraging applause for each act, and while this does very clever things in terms of audience participation, these diversions definitely start to feel like they’re obscuring the main plot. Director Patrick Sandford’s stage is also very thoughtfully designed, and through the inspired use of lighting, Derek’s attic flat becomes a convincing restaurant, church, bar, comedy club and blues parlour.
Touching on some major cultural issues such as World War Two, the race issue, and even the advent of space exploration with the launch of the Sputnik space probe, Post’s narrative could have been something very special. However, Post’s penchant for the duality of humour and horror places it somewhat awkwardly between noir and a satire of the form, hampered by the deadweight of style over substance.
5 / 10 – See it for Slater, who just about keeps this miscellany afloat.