I am going to see a musical at Surgeons Hall this evening and I am already heavily sedated. There is something about musicals – their squeaky cheerfulness, that oppressive kitsch – which moves me to uncontrollable violence. At my last musical I killed half a dozen people.
Andrew Sherlock’s “Pool of Blood” looks and sounds like any high school musical, but it was actually created at the Liverpool John Moores University. All of the cast are students, although they seem to have picked up a vagrant from somewhere and he has been given a minor token role. He probably performs every night in exchange for a hot meal. Okay, so I’m being facetious: this is a student play in which the university’s middle-aged Head of Drama, David Llewellyn, is performing on stage in every show, presumably to keep an eye on his students. He at least has the decency to drag any erring performers offstage before giving them a bollocking.
There are references to Gothic horror, bodysnatching, Grand Guignol and Liverpool’s industrial heritage, but these are deployed with the ruthless dishonesty of an estate agent who is trying to distract your attention away from the dilapidation of the property. This is, as I have said, ultimately a musical. Perhaps it imagines itself to be a commentary upon the nineteenth-century world of variety theatre, but it offers merely an empty echo of the music hall. Half of the cast are grinning wooden ventriloquist dummies, with shiny faces and glazed eyes. There are musical turns, I-say-I-say-I-say jokes, heads popping out of barrels, and nobody can be kicked up the arse without two cymbals being clashed together.
I do not wish to be churlish, because “Pool of Blood” must be a tremendous technical accomplishment, requiring a great deal of discipline and artistry from its performers. But it is only a technical accomplishment, and the show is otherwise so banal that it is virtually 2D. Contrary to its title, this performance does not have a drop of blood in it. In this respect, “Pool of Blood” is probably the same as any other known musical. Which brings me to the nudity…
What on Earth is going on? During a Grand Guignol scene, the costume is quite unexpectedly peeled off one of the female students. In any other story, surrounded by any other cast, this would be massively erotic. But in the middle of this gurning pantomime, she only looks vulnerable. There is a vein of inconsequential self-referencing here: the musical tells the story of a declining theatre which resorts to nudity to entertain its audiences, whilst this story is itself told within a musical which likewise resorts to nudity to entertain its audience. But the irony is flat: the whole thing is indeed 2D.
I wanted to shout out to the poor girl, “Wake Up!” Perhaps this gaudy nightmare would have vanished and we would have both woken up safely in our beds.