Bloodshot at St James
The audience in the tiny downstairs studio at St James Theatre view the minute stage from small tables. With flickering candles, and the bar a welcome reach away, this dark and humid hole is the perfect venue for Patrick Sandford’s adaptation of Douglas Post’s Bloodshot, which traces the passage of an unfortunate immigrant woman through the nightspots of London’s underbelly.
Pimlico, 1957: having photographed atrocities as a police constable during the Blitz, an embittered and alcoholic Derek Eveleigh leaves his apartment only to photograph the phenomenon of the “modern woman” whom he follows secretly in parks. One day, Eveleigh receives a letter from an anonymous admirer of his work, who asks him to photograph Cassandra Ammans, an immigrant from the Bahamas who is residing in the impoverished and dangerous Notting Hill. Titillated by cash and flattery, Eveleigh accepts the challenge. The photographer pans closer and closer to Ammans, tantalised by his “exotic”subject – until he witnesses her brutal murder.
Bloodshot tears open many points of discussion – namely the ethical issues surrounding photography. Post muses in Some Thoughts on Photography in the programme: “How much influence [should] the photographer of the picture exert over his or her surroundings?” How close, asks Post, can the photographer get to his subject before he becomes responsible for intervening in her distress?
The changing face of London is explored – mass immigration is visible in the diverse characters. The growing liberation of women is clear in Amman’s seditious job, and the revealing fashions and varied careers of the women in Eveleigh’s photographs. London and its people are metaphorically “bloodshot” with the legacy of war, but are nonetheless moving rapidly into the cultural and sexual revolution of the 60s. How can this thematic richness come through from such a low-budget one-man show?
Influenced by John Osbourne’s The Entertainer (1957), which charted the decay of London’s music hall scene, Bloodshot is layered with meta-performance. The superb fluidity of Bloodshot lies with sole actor and theatre mogul Simon Slater, who has worked extensively in major London theatres and in television. As well as the hyperactive Eveleigh, Slater plays a bombastic French magician – a routine complete with convincing and gruesome trickery. Depressive Irish comedian, McKinley, offers a dark and side-splitting mandolin-ditty. To the character of American jazz musician Ronnie, Slater lends impressive saxophone solos (he composed all of Bloodshot’s score himself), which colours the production with Beat Generation funk. As Eveleigh draws a story of rape, suicide, homesickness and mistaken identity from his questionable acquaintances, Slater faultlessly shifts between personas, dialects and instrumental interludes. Slater’s exhaustion at the end of his riveting performance is tangible – energy well spent.
Bloodshot is at St James Theatre until 25th January 2014, for further information or to book visit here.