Dear Einstein – Now Available to Watch at Home
4th December 2023
Co-Writer and Director of Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show in conversation with journalist Heather Kincaid (September 2020)
When did you have the idea for Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show? Was it just in response to lockdown or did you want to do something like this anyway?
I think in some ways it was very much responding to the situation. We have had in our minds that we wanted to do a show that was more tour-able, less dependent on the middle-scale and that would enable us to go to smaller venues. We’d talked about that for the last few years actually.
We had this idea of doing a show that was almost inside a car but then obviously at the moment you can’t do that because you couldn’t get enough people inside a car in a COVID-safe way. So then we started to think about something that was more of an outdoor piece but to do what we normally do, which is to make these quite technologically complex pieces. So let’s combine, if you like, a classic piece of outdoor theatre with what we do as a company, and we thought we could do that in a COVID-safe way.
With regards to the theme of the piece I suppose we had been toying with lots of ideas around horror movies and vampires. We thought that having a group of strangers turning up in a town and telling a story about that town, and the group having some sort of supernatural powers might be quite interesting.
You talked about the technical complexity of it. How difficult has it been to get that into something that’s tour-able on this scale?
Well I don’t want to give too much away but basically a van rolls up – an old, slightly battered Luton van – and out of that van emerges a stage with screens and then these figures. So using front and back projection, we create this quite magical technological world to tell the story in, using puppets, figurines and music to sort of unfurl our narrative. The story basically centres around a group of strangers who turn up in this place to expose evil and corruption in the town through their story, and then they show retribution on the people who have committed these terrible deeds.
So it’s kind of like a cross between a classic contemporary technological version of a Punch and Judy show meets vampire grand guignol through classic street theatre!
It sounds like there’s a bit of medieval morality play in there as well…
There is definitely that in there as well. Medieval players used to have their cart that they’d turn up in and draw around the city with all the props, costumes and pieces of the set all bundled inside. It’s our 21st century version of that.
Have changing guidelines meant you’ve had to change the show from your original idea or not too much?
It’s not affected us too much but it has slightly changed the way we might stage it. So to give you a concrete example, originally we had one person out front and two people in the van, but the van’s too small for that to be safe, so we’re having to have one person in the van and two people out front now.
But actually when we started thinking about the dynamics of the piece, that’s turned out to be a change for the better – it means there’s more interaction with the audience now. I think we’re pretty good as a company about being pragmatic and adapting to different conditions and parameters as we need to.
Is the current situation something you reference explicitly in the show or are you shying away from that?
We allude to the current political situation through metaphors, but we don’t really talk about COVID-19 specifically. So we don’t talk about illness or virus or contagion in that sense. In the end we just thought it was best to keep away from that, but hopefully it’s clear who the characters are representing in our world, in the current political scene.
Who are the characters?
We’ve got three demons – Dr Blood and two other strangers with demonic powers. And then we’ve got three main characters in the piece: there’s the Mayor, the Chief Constable and the Headteacher, so you could make analogies if you wanted to, to different political roles. And they’re the corrupt officials in whatever town we go to and we expose the story of that corruption. But it’s a playful analogy – it’s not party political.
Now that you’re into rehearsals, how have you found it managing that?
Yeah it’s a challenge. Everyone’s in a mask, we’ve got visors sometimes and everyone’s got to be 2 metres apart at all times. We can’t socialise and talk to each other very much.
That’s so much a part of it isn’t it? It’s not just the stuff that’s on the set itself.
Yeah, it’s what we do. So it’s a big change for us. But we’re working around it – and I don’t mean in the sense of trying to dodge it. We’re absorbing and accommodating those restrictions into the piece itself so no one’s ever less than 6 feet apart, and you can make that a dynamic of it really.
You talked about imitating the dog (ITD) being quite an innovative company and being well-equipped to adapt. Have you been able to work on other things this year? What has lockdown meant for you in general?
We were in the last leg of our tour of Night of the Living Dead™️ – Remix when it started – we were about to go to HOME in Manchester and then it was going to go to Brazil. That all got cancelled. We were also working on a major new show and that’s been postponed till next year. So a lot of things immediately ground to a halt, but we’ve not really stopped working. We got a commission from BBC Culture in Quarantine so we made three live graphic novels which are on BBC iPlayer for a year. They were great fun and we did them really quickly using a cross between our technologies and Zoom and Skype.
During lockdown we also did a project with the University of Utrecht, which was a kind of online game that incorporates performance and film. And we’ve been writing, researching and keeping our ideas going, and in a sense this follows on from all of those sorts of things that we’ve been doing. So in some ways everything stopped but in other ways we just carried on. Only in a different way.
Photograph by Ed Waring
Thanks to Heather Kincaid
4th December 2023