The Lowry Theatre, Salford; Saturday 17th October, 2020
Saturday nights at the theatre aren’t really allowed anymore. But Saturday nights outside the theatre are perfectly fine. And that’s made a lot easier if you can knock something out from the back of an old van on the service road behind The Lowry.
It’s a bit sad seeing the imposing theatre building fully closed with all the lights turned off, it’s also quite spooky, and that sets the tone rather nicely for the intriguing spectacle that is Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show.
The synopsis talks of eerie weirdness, but it also says a running time of only 30 minutes, can anything theatrical be achieved in just half an hour?
Rather surprisingly, it seems that it can. An impressive mix of relentless action and high entertainment does somehow get packed into what is undoubtedly a very, very short show.
The overall delivery has the feel (and running time) of an EastEnders episode where they all finally decide to try and kill each other. Dr Blood’s disturbing trio of punk-rock performers spin out an outrageous tale involving local government corruption and criminality centred around the mayor, a random headmaster, and all sorts of other deeply questionable characters.
Much seems to happen, it’s a little hard to follow. Just as with a soap opera, the opening scenes come across as perhaps being the continuation of some previous episode, it takes a significant effort of mental gymnastics to pick up and / or follow the thread.
Content-wise there is a funny mood of carnival-like light entertainment, most emphatically evident in the thigh-slapping jolliness of the accompanying rock-guitar soundtrack. The music has an immature, fairground-like feel to it; the on-stage action comes across as some form of ancient slapstick routine. It has the look and feel of a carnival freak show populated by characters from a gothic horror novel.
But what starts off on happy street very soon ends up veering off-road into something a lot more gruesome and disturbing. The second half of the show delivers far more action, more entertainment – the result is much more followable and alluring.
What seems to save it is the innovative presentation technique. Live camera projections are delivered onto a background screen whilst the filming / acting takes place closest to the audience. It’s quite daring for an outdoor show which is clearly susceptible to the elements, yet it works really well – the method seems to recreate a conventional theatrical set and stage despite it all being delivered off the back of an old van.
The goings on are all a bit gruesome, but that unpleasantness seems to be essential as a focussing method. The sharp shocks draw the audience in, suddenly it feels like much more than a stage performance, it instead becomes a captivating storytelling experience which demands resolution and rationalising.
In the space of just half an hour Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show delivers a fairly complex plot full of unexpected twists and turns. What begins in a rather imprecise and indistinct manner does eventually come together very neatly thanks to the chilling effects of cold horror being delivered in the cold air of a dark autumn night.
Photography: Ed Waring