Theatre Of Blood, Lyttelton, National Theatre, London

Broadbent's homicidal thespian deserves to silence any critics
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The Independent Culture

You can hardly blame practitioners for wanting to get even with critics after a bad review. The retaliation can sometimes be executed with great aplomb. I once ungallantly wrote of a performance by Helena Bonham-Carter that "it made one pine to be in the restricted-view seating". She wrote: "do let me know if you have to cover any future production I'm in and I will make absolutely sure that you are in the restricted-view seating".

You can hardly blame practitioners for wanting to get even with critics after a bad review. The retaliation can sometimes be executed with great aplomb. I once ungallantly wrote of a performance by Helena Bonham-Carter that "it made one pine to be in the restricted-view seating". She wrote: "do let me know if you have to cover any future production I'm in and I will make absolutely sure that you are in the restricted-view seating".

The exquisite poise of that riposte is in stark contrast to the strategy of Edward Lionheart, the egregious and outmoded old Shakespearean ham, who, furious at being passed over for the Critics' Circle Best Actor Award, eliminates the reviewers one by one using the violently gory methods pioneered in the plays of his beloved Bard.

Lionheart made his first appearance in the 1973 comic horror movie Theatre of Blood, starring Vincent Price as the homicidal thesp, and Diana Rigg as his daughter. He now resurfaces with a vengeance, so to speak, in Improbable Theatre's exuberant stage adaptation in the Lyttelton, written by Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott (who also directs) and starring the great Jim Broadbent as Lionheart and Rigg's stunning and talented daughter, Rachael Stirling, as his conflicted child.

The material is far more at home in a theatre and the adaptors get the maximum mileage out of this by giving it a slightly different framework. Lionheart is now a deranged version of Prospero and the critics are all lured to a defunct Frank Matcham theatre (the fantastic and fantastical set is by Rae Smith) which functions as the equivalent of the magical island where he puts all the reviewers at his mercy.

Part of the pleasure of the production comes from the fun it takes in turning up the temperature on the ghoulish camp comedy and in genially satirising the barking self-centredness of certain critics. When, à la Titus Andronicus, Bette Bourne's adorably limp-wristed hack is fed his pet poodles it's through a tube attached to giant mincing machine and his stomach swells like grotesque speeded-up pregnancy.

Occasionally, I felt a trick had been missed. Confronted with the corpse of a colleague, the critics I know would think of only one thing: who will get his or her job and how will this affect the game of musical chairs? This version, though, develops into a fascinating debate between Lionheart and the trendy polo-necked critic (Mark Lockyer) who (this is 1973) has just been recruited to become the Literary Manager of the new National Theatre on the South Bank. The fact that this is very venue in which we are sitting imparts an added frisson to the dispute in which Lionheart decries the National as a concrete mausoleum dedicated to the values of state-subsidised Oxbridge directors only one step up from critics.

Whether his own commercial actor-manager tradition was a richer alternative is left a moot point in an intelligent, larky evening that offers, in more senses than one, a bloody good show.

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