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Pool of Blood
Published on Saturday, 11 August 2012
4

4 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Theatre
3-4, 6-11 Aug, 10:30pm-11:45pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Recommended for age 16+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

If ever there was the definition of “Acquired taste” on the Edinburgh Fringe… truth be told it probably wouldn’t be this. But all the same, Pool of Blood requires an awful lot of thought before putting your hard earned-cash down for a ticket. Not because it isn’t good – heavens no – it’s a proudly gory, spectacularly camp Grand Guignol, with a very talented cast and great songs.  It’s just that’s not exactly how it’s being marketed.

From what I’d read beforehand, I personally was expecting a rather serious horror play. So it was kind-of a shock when the full cast suddenly burst into song, right after the opening monologue from David Llewellyn – the head of drama at Liverpool John Moores University, the university responsible for the play’s creation. Fortunately I’m not picky when it comes to the shows I see, but there’s a moral here about being careful with your programme blurb. I can’t imagine many dyed-in-the-wool horror fans leaping for joy when something they’ve shelled out for turns into something dramatically different before their very eyes.

Telling the story of a failing theatre in Liverpool, whose owner has long since turned to grave-robbing and selling the corpses to Edinburgh surgeons to stay afloat, Pool of Blood soon spreads into a gloriously preposterous melodrama. There are long-lost siblings, murderous plots against family members, illicit affairs, striking dockworkers and incriminating tattoos. The narrative is strung together with some great songs, with strong voices and some excellent harmonies. The cast give their absolute all – but most do end up overshadowed by Llewellyn’s (comparatively) more subdued command of the stage. I suppose, considering he is their head of department, it’s understandable, and in no way a slight on the cast’s ability.

It goes without saying that there is a lot to enjoy about Pool of Blood; but unfortunately, there’s quite a lot to criticise as well. One of its main strengths, for example, is its absolute dedication to do nothing by halves. Everything that’s significant in this play is made outrageously obvious through acting, dialogue or music. But it’s also one of the reasons the production doesn’t work quite as well as it should do; there are ways of bringing subtlety even to something very physical and heightened, but you won’t see them here. For most part it works, but when it doesn’t it makes the whole aesthetic of the production feel slightly monochrome, and not in the way it would like it to be.

For those who have an appreciation for insanely OTT gothic melodrama – and believe me there are more than a few of them out there – this is a hell of a lot of fun, often recalling Tim Burton’s adaptation of the musical Sweeney Todd in its out-and-out celebration of all things dark and gory. And hey, if you were expecting a serious horror production, tag along anyway. You might just surprise yourself with how much you enjoy this deliciously dark, delectably violent melodrama.

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