The Watermill Theatre, Newbury
There was a palpable ripple of excitement as the audience entered the Watermill Theatre after six long months of enforced closure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The auditorium was beautifully prepared for 'social distancing' with red bows tied around the seats that were to be kept empty in anticipation of one day being unwrapped when things return to relative normality.
Douglas Post’s psychological thriller Bloodshot, set in 1957, is an excellent whodunnit that keeps you guessing right up to the dénouement. It’s a one-man play and the multi-talented Simon Slater gives a highly impressive versatile performance as Derek Everleigh. He’s an ex-police photographer who was dismissed from the force on account of his alcoholism. As he tells the audience: "first you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."
His work for the Picture Post is coming to an end as the publication is going bust, the rent on his sparse basement flat (design by Agnes Dewhurst) is increasing and his world is at rock bottom. That is until a manilla envelope containing money arrives with a note offering him an assignment to take photos of Cassandra Ammons (Amanda Wilkins), a young black woman who worked as a magician’s assistant in a club in Mayfair.
He secretly follows her, taking the required photos that are projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage. When Cassandra is found brutally murdered in Holland Park, Everleigh is determined to discover who her killer was.
The plot has many intriguing twists and turns but there are apparently three very different suspects including a burlesque-style Irish banjo-playing comic whose jokes are appropriate for the time but may jar a little for today’s more 'politically correct' audiences.
Then there is the American saxophone-playing jazz musician. Finally, we meet the Russian restaurateur who performs some incredible magic tricks including swallowing razor blades.
All of these characters are skilfully played by Slater, who gives a tour-de-force performance.
Patrick Sanford’s surefooted, taut direction keeps the action and tension bubbling along in this superb ‘film noir’ production.
Slater thoroughly deserved the enthusiastic applause at the end. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp