Co-writers/Directors: Andrew Quick, Pete Brooks
In these days of coronavirus, one obvious way of doing theatre is ruled out: you can’t put on a big show in a big theatre for a big audience and boost your takings with bar, restaurant and merchandise. So huge credit to Leeds Playhouse which, at the weekend, presents four shows in four theatre spaces with limited audiences and, not content with that, has, together with production company imitating the dog, produced a midweek outdoor event for four performances on Playhouse Square, Dr. Blood’s Old Travelling Show.
After this imitating the dog takes Dr. Blood travelling to four further venues as an old-style fit-up show, acting from the back of a van. The company’s Co-Artistic Directors claim that this show is “a direct result of the current epidemic” and it’s easy to see why. It’s readily stageable in an outdoor space, it’s short and interval-free (30 minutes running time) and it’s sufficiently camp and over-the-top to serve as an antidote to these too earnest times.
It’s not an important piece of theatre (“playful and silly” are the company’s own chosen terms), but it’s fun, it’s done with skill and invention and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The back of the van opens and a simple set spreads out: the stage shape recalls the medicine shows the title references, but with plenty of flat surfaces for projections and a little post-box of a window through which to follow the exploits of live actors, puppets and projections. At the outset Matt Prendergast (Dr. Blood) gets all melodramatic as he introduces the horror which is to follow whilst his assistants (Laura Atherton and Keicha Greenidge) do a very jolly and rather punkish puppet-on-a-string dance.
Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’ script alternates the melodramatic flourish and devilish glee of the trio with the rather conventional B-movie tale of three local worthies who have subverted local politics to get to build a monster casino, leading to confrontation with more evil than they can cope with and a blood-boltered finale. The three worthies, of course, are played by Prendergast, Atherton and Greenidge with the aid of masks (none of your conventional face covering for Tesco, but genuine full face grotesque) and live scenes projected from assorted angles.
Quick and Brooks’ direction is aided more than a little by the clever and often surprising projections and video designs of the third Co-Artistic Director, Simon Wainwright. The three actors offer disciplined excess and, all in all, it’s a disarmingly pleasant way to spend 30 minutes standing at a safe social distance from your neighbour in the cool of the evening.
Tours the North and Midlands. Dates and Venue Information HERE