Theatre: Blood and guts at Theatre of Blood

Caught Theatre of Blood last night at the National Theatre with Jim Broadbent as the lead. It is based on an old Vincent Price / Diana Rigg film where a ham actor Edward Lionheart seeks revenge on all the critics that have savaged him over the years by locking them in an old abandoned theatre and doing away with them one by one. The murders are committed in the style of murders that appear in Shakespeare's texts. The selected texts were also the plays Lionheart performed in his final season of Shakespeare before jumping to his death from a critics appartment after he was overlooked for a drama award... Or so it seemed...

It is gruesome and very black comedy including:

  • When the first critic is disposed of in the style of Julius Caesar, blood showers out all over the stage... Most of the audience laughed at this sight
  • Shylock this time takes his pound of flesh by removing the heart of another (it's just over a pound until he squeezes it and the blood that drains makes it just right)
  • When one critic arrives with two poodles you just know that something truly awful is going to happen to the three of them. And it does...

A very fun and black night. But the play has also been updated to make a few in-jokes and barbs at the National Theatre itself. There is the argument put forward by Lionheart that the soon-to-be-built government theatre on the south bank of the Thames (the play is set in the 1970s as the building is being constructed) will take all the fun and life out of the theatre and become something that is deemed good for you... "Instead of the delicious illicit tang of the betting shop or brothel it had the sanctimonious cultural cache of a collective confessional" Lionhart moans.

The contrast between the grand and lavish theatres of long gone and the concrete constructions of present day are obvious and not just in the play. The West End with all its old and aging theatres is another world away from the concrete construction of the National. It is awfully functional and nowadays it seems impossible to imagine of the arts existing without government subsidies and funding... But once upon a time they did... Those days (just like overripe interpretations of Shakespeare) are long gone...

But nostalgia aside, this co-production with theatre company Improbable provides thrills and a hint of nostalgia, and a delightfully awful performance by Broadbent. It is fascinating to watch an actor, play a bad actor playing Shakespeare very badly... Now you don't often see that...

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