Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show review – clarity missing amid punk spirit and ingenuity

Catherine Love
·2 min read

Credit to imitating the dog for looking at the current Covid restrictions and treating them as a reason to get inventive. In the face of limited opportunities for touring theatre – especially the kind of ambitious, technologically complex shows they’re known for – the company has reimagined its way of working. Taking a cue from nomadic medieval players, Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show is a compact outdoor piece that emerges from the back of an inauspicious-looking white van.

Medieval wagon theatre has inspired more than just the form. Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show is essentially an old-fashioned morality tale, but told from a decidedly 21st-century perspective. The villains are corrupt local officials and authority figures; Dr Blood and his mysterious demonic associates have rolled up in town to deliver retribution. On a small outdoor stage, imitating the dog adapt their trademark live-filming and projection to this new challenge, multiplying the small cast of three with the use of masks, figurines and clever camera angles.

The show was thrown together quickly, and it shows. The narrative still feels scrappy – more like the start of an idea than a fully fleshed out story. There’s a sense that the company have got excited by a jumble of different references and technological tricks without ever fully figuring out the why of it all. There are gleeful nods to horror films, graphic novels, carnival chaos and grotesque satire – think Spitting Image meets 70s gore-fest. But the story of corruption and abuse at the heart of local government is thin, while the occasional wink-wink references to our own government’s incompetence are painfully clunky. And for such a slender story, it can sometimes be surprisingly confusing, as technical ingenuity crowds out narrative clarity.

At times, there’s an appealingly direct and slapdash quality to it all, recalling punk and agit-prop. It’s also exciting to see theatre-makers getting creative within the current limitations – even if the little plastic cones marking out socially distanced spaces for spectators spark unpleasant flashbacks to school PE classes. But for all its resourcefulness, this is sadly a bit of a misfire.

Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show is touring throughout October to Halifax, Salford, Lancaster and Coventry.