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Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show was the ideal mixture of the humorous and the macabre; perhaps the sort of comedy that a pandemic demands and in retrospect, I could think of no better performance to mark my first jaunt to the theatre after the estrangement that lockdown brought. The plot told of the dangerous consequences that greed can have, highlighting corruption while satirising public figures at the same time: it was the tale of three prominent figures in a town, namely the Mayor, Chief Constable and the Headteacher. Their dastardly plan to sell the town’s land to make way for a huge casino though is closely followed by three creatures of the dark, reminiscent of the furies from Greek mythology: all loosely set to a punk rock soundtrack and inspired by medieval theatrical carts.
It was an odd experience standing in Lancaster Square, in the space designated for each household, waiting for the rest of the small audience to trickle in who were being guided by the Lancaster Arts staff. Meanwhile, I was standing in the dark wearing my face mask anticipating for the show to begin. It was a testament to the talent of the actors and the originality and innovation of the show that my awareness of the bizarreness of the situation melted away: in fact, I seemed to blink and we were welcoming the troop back onto the stage with warm, appreciative applause.
The dexterity of the actors, Laura Atherton, Keicha Greenidge and Matt Prendergast, stretched beyond simply playing multiple characters but to their use of staging, multi-media and props: it transformed the show from simply an entertaining and comic show to an ingenious production. Three actors and six characters: the three conspirators and three creatures of the night watching them in their duplicity were demonstrated using a cunning mix of masks, dolls and costume. Dr Blood and his associates deliver their retribution on stage with the helping hand of projection and live-filming, manipulating the stage space with clever camera angles so that all six characters could be present at the same time. It was an age-old tale of moral corruption and retribution with a modern twist: not only the technological twists but the subtle political jokes that gave the show an extra comic dimension. It was Matt Prendergast’s performance, however, that made the show with his murderous laughter and creepy faces, and without his audacious performance, the show would not have been as diverting as it was.
Perhaps at times, it felt a little rushed and the plot could have had a little more clarity but while theatres and shows continue to struggle with the current limitations, I entirely sympathise with a troop’s difficulties in adjusting shows to entertain safely but also the pressure of needing to begin performing again soon. I would also add though that the social distancing rules of the show may seem off-putting at first, but there was a sense of closeness in that show that is rarely felt in larger theatre spaces. The smaller audience, though separated from one another, was able to be totally drawn in by the actors; and the occasional nippy breeze also added to the dark atmosphere that the performance exuded.