Highly improbable becomes probable.
Jim Broadbent is superb as the ham Shakespearian actor who sets out to kill all those critics who slated his performances of the bard. One by one, the critics meet their untimely end in line with the Shakespeare play of Lionheart’s repertoire. The sight of Michael Merridew (Bette Bourne) being stuffed to his fill with his own poodles; echoing Tamora’s sons baked in a pie from Titus Andronicus will live with me for a very long time. Not in the ghoulish and gruesome way it does in the Shakespeare play, but in a hilarious slight of hand and full-on commitment to give any plausibility to this improbable plot line.
This is the key and this is why this colossal production works for the fine cast director Phelim McDermott has brought together. The actors, as their characters, absolutely believe in the world they are in and the fateful revenge from the misguided Lionheart. It is through their eyes we must watch this farcical and high-camp revenge’s tragedy!
Outstanding design coupled with an exceptional ensemble creates a tongue-in-cheek production that any Hammer House Horror fan would be proud of. After spending the last three weeks at Motley Theatre Design School, my understanding and respect for designers has grown ten-fold. Rae Smith has created a world in which this highly implausible world can exist. A Victorian feel of this fully working theatre on the stage of the National Theatre was nothing short of magnificent – designers sometimes go unmentioned as the design often supports the play in a functional way that does not impose on the production. For my money, this design fully supported the production and, in a contradiction of myself, fully imposed on the production in absolutely the right way: gruesome, dark, over the top and fully functional – wow, what a design.
It would be too much to go through every actor for this short space – all I will say is that this is a cast who have a high calibre attention to detail at its core. Further, it is a cast who believe in this crazy world for the duration of the performance, and it is through their belief and their unashamed over-acting that we, the audience and fans of this absurd and improbable piece of theatre, can sit back and really suspend our disbelief when we drown a critic in a vat of wine, raise one on spears through the chest, legs and stomach and remove the heart of a non-believer with a crow bar – where else can this exist but the National Theatre in Improbable Theatre’s production of Theatre of Blood. That’s a lot of theatre; long may it continue.
Gene David Kirk