Whatsonstage.com theatregoers got an extra helping of entertainment with our Outing last night to Theatre of Blood at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre. After the performance, star Jim Broadbent (pictured at last night’s event) and his critical victims in the play returned to the stage to talk exclusively to our group.

In the premiere stage adaptation of the 1973 cult horror film of the same Broadbent plays Edward Lionheart, a disgruntled Shakespearean thespian who returns from the grave to take murderously poetic revenge on the sniping drama critics he believes robbed him of his rightful acting prize.

During the play, critics from the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Observer, Sunday Times and Times (the hero of the evening) have their offensive verdicts read back to them before Lionheart despatches them with gory grand guignol glee. Critics are only human, cries one while pleading for his life. “An opinion I find myself struggling to share,” intones the actor before literally sticking it to him.

For the Whatsonstage.com Q&A, Broadbent was joined by Hayley Carmichael, Steve Steen, Tim McMullan, Sally Dexter, Bette Bourne and Mark Lockyer, who play the critics, as well as Improbable Theatre co-adapter and co-director Lee Simpson. Highlights from the discussion follow…

On drama critics

Sally Dexter (who plays the critic from the Observer): Playing a critic in a play is a bit like crossing enemy lines.

Tim McMullan (who plays the critic from the Daily Mail): I once met a group of critics by chance when I was with some actor friends in Italy, and it was like being confronted by the Gestapo in wartime. But they ended up inviting us to dinner and we all actually got on rather well… They then made it very clear that they were not going to pay for our meal, but still, we had a good time.

Jim Broadbent: We may slag them off, but the critics have some of the best lines in the play with their reviews (written by Lee). They are true examples of the acerbic wit of critics and show how funny they can be.

On the press night

Broadbent: It was a completely different atmosphere on press night, knowing all the critics were in the audience. It was a bit scary, but also very exciting, to know that a lot of my lines might cause genuine offence to a lot of the people watching. Lionheart says some horrible things, like his line “What have I become to crave the love of those that cannot love”.

On the challenge of performing Shakespeare

Broadbent: I had a good get-out that Lionheart is a bad actor, so it didn’t matter so much that I haven’t done much Shakespeare before, for this production. But, obviously, if I am asked to play a Shakespearean role properly I won’t have that excuse.

On barbs about the National

Broadbent: Nick Hytner (NT artistic director) is disproving all the slagging off there is in the play (about the National) by letting us put it on at all, which is wonderful. It might be a change from the ‘good old days’, but we have to remember that Theatre of Blood is actually a period piece. It is set in the Seventies when theatre was changing. The sort of theatre Lionheart likes died with television really, but a certain amount of change is good. This sort of establishment has really achieved so much.

On the film original

Broadbent: I like all the old horror movies in that genre, but I do particularly like Theatre of Blood. Vincent Price always brought a bit more to the party.

On real blood & poodles

Lee Simpson: We wanted to have seven tramps, but the poodles cost so much in the end we had to lose an actor to be able to afford two poodles, so we only have six tramps. It was a very conscious decision to make the poodles real, and not toys like we might have done in the past, because they get crushed. We wanted that shock value. If you can get the audience to say ‘ahh’ and then kill them, it has a much better effect.

Also, we would usually use things like ribbon to indicate blood, like we did in The Hanging Man, because in theatre you have to find other ways of showing what in film is all done with special effects. But for this one we decided it was just time to have some proper blood… and real poodles.

- by Terri Paddock