Dark evenings. Collars turned up against a wind that threatens to mug commuters. Hats pulled down low casting shadows across barely visible faces. Rain belting down like nature’s own soggy manifestation of misery. Has there ever been a better time to open a noir thriller on the London stage?
Bloodshot, which opens at the St James Theatre this week, leaves audiences in an oppressive London but takes them back more than half a century to the 1950s, where a photographer’s life is changed by an anonymous letter asking him to take mysterious pictures.
Playing Derek, whose journey takes him from Holland Park to seedy Soho, is Simon Slater, veteran of West End musicals Viva Forever! and Mamma Mia!, and Olivier Award-nominated composer of the score to Royal Court hit Constellations.
Like world weary private detectives with interior monologues running wild we quizzed Slater about the show and his career, discovering a nautical past and a pivotal gift.
How would you describe Bloodshot?
It’s a one-man thriller set in 1950s London, a tale triggered by an obsession and a murder.
How did the piece come about?
I commissioned the play from the Chicago-based writer Douglas Post as I wanted a piece that would suit my talents. The plot and the world is all his.
How tricky is it to perform a thriller single-handedly?
Very. It is nerve wracking and demanding as I play four very different characters as well as the ukulele and saxophone, and I sing two songs and do magic tricks. A mountain.
How does the intimacy of the St James Studio affect your performance?
It’s a great space for intimate storytelling and it fits the world of the play, some of which is set in a club and a theatre. It’s a huge help.
Your story begins with a mysterious envelope. What’s the most exciting post you’ve ever received?
I suppose those weekly letters I received from my parents whilst at boarding school! Oh and TV residual cheques.
Have you ever been distracted by hearing your own music performed while on stage?
Not distracted but as time has gone on I sometimes wish that I could rewrite and re-record it.
How did it feel to receive an Olivier Award nomination for your Constellations score?
I was truly delighted and overexcited. It isn’t so much the award, it’s just that it was for my music, which was very important to me.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Seeing my Dad’s sailing boat coming across the horizon and my Mum giggling at an obscene word she put together at Scrabble.
What sparked your interest in performing?
My mother buying me a magic set from Hamley’s toy shop.
What is the finest performance you have seen?
Nathan Lane in The Producers at Drury Lane. So terribly funny.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
Directed by Peter Wier. Starring Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Audrey Hepburn, oh and Meryl Streep because I have worked with her and she needs a break. Most important, music by Thomas Newman. A romantic comedy. Too much?
Who or what has inspired you?
Music of all types and great players and writers. Too many to list. Randy Newman, Martin Frost (clarinetist), Fats Waller, [Jean] Sibelius, Ted Hughes, the story of Chariots Of Fire, [Robert] De Niro in New York New York, David Gower, Charles Dickens’ extraordinary heart.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
Ooh, time with my children and partner probably.
What would you choose as a last meal?
Shell fish: Crab, whelks, cockles, muscles with brown bread. I am from Scarborough, you see.
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
What could you not be without?
Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
I practice the sax – long still notes – check the magic props, sing with my ukulele and run the opening lines.
What ambitions would you like to fulfil?
I would like to do Bloodshot all over… especially in the states, and write more film music and sail much, much more.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
In the navy?
Do you have any advice for young actors?
Work, work, work at it all.