Through the Looking Glass

Painfully true, Bloodshot‘s humanity and heart give the thriller more of a connection to reality

British actor Simon Slater performs a sleight of hand in Bloodshot | Photo: English Theatre

Against a dismal apartment set with spare furniture, grey walls, a dishevelled clothesline of hanging photographs and a few empty liquor bottles, Bloodshot one-ups the typical thriller in an unexpected way: It also breaks your heart.

Bloodshot, a one-man show by American playwright Douglas Post, shows 1950s London grappling with a bombed-out economy, labour shortages and a surge of black immigrants from the British West Indies. Tensions build like a packed powder keg that is set off when rent control ends, allowing landlords to charge more and poor white families to have to compete with immigrants for affordable housing.

Within this unrest, Derek Eveleigh is an unemployed photographer, “a prostitute to the visual image,” as he puts it. He is at a personal and professional impasse, when a letter arrives, offering money if he will follow and photograph a West Indian woman, Cassandra Ammons. Desperate for cash to meet his own increased rent, he accepts and completes his assignment, which leads to another, and another, until he witnesses a tragedy that hits too close to home. Investigating it propels him into London’s underworld.

British actor Simon Slater successfully narrates Post’s sharp script with biting sarcasm, honesty but also naiveté, wearing the social blinders of his time. There are a few holes, however, and Slater glides through Derek’s narrative without landing a deep stake in his emotions. When he is offered the photo assignment, he doesn’t melt enough under the allure of the cash; after all, he’s unemployed. But he never seems to recognize this money as his salvation.

He then muses nonchalantly, “I’d never photographed a black woman before – it had never occurred to me.” Instantly, Slater yanks Derek back into his narrative, giving the audience too little time to digest this loaded, yet overlooked, statement.

The play’s few faults are compensated by Slater’s ability to snap between characters. One moment, he is an Irishman going on an endless drone about his love affair with his mandolin; in the next, he flashes to a puzzled Derek, every inch of his voice, expression and body language impressively changed from the moment before.

But it is Derek’s humanity that truly shines: When confronted with unspeakable horror, he simply can’t cope. In despair, he turns to the bottle: “You aren’t drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on,” he explains. In need of acknowledgement, he latches onto the letter-writer’s praise: “(He called my work) ‘artistic achievements,’” Derek says, smiling proudly.

Slater clinches it in Derek’s impassioned speech to a Russian club owner. Begun as a means of coaxing out information, he dissolves from strategic investigator into heartbroken heap, bringing staggered breaths from the audience and even tears. All eyes were riveted on Slater, because Derek, as with us all, desperately longs for a connection, and he finds it in Cassandra, the woman he is following. Although she never seems to know he exists, she touches a place in his life that no one else has ever reached. She becomes his study, his muse, his fantasy and his desire, and ultimately determines his fate.

Bloodshot, through Oct. 22
See our print edition events calendar, page 23 

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