Theatre of Blood, NT Lyttelton, London

When old ham goes a bit cheesy
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The Independent Culture

This ought to be critic-proof. Based on the cult 1970's movie starring Vincent Price, Improbable's new gore-spattered black comedy (created in collaboration with the National) is all about a bunch of theatre reviewers being bumped off by an old-school Shakespearean ham named Lionheart. He has been sent off his rocker by the journos' lacerating notices. They duly meet horrific ends: spurting buckets of blood from multiple stab wounds like Julius Caesar; being bibulously drowned in a butt of wine après Richard III or, as a variation on Titus Andronicus, being force-fed pet-poodle pie.

This ought to be critic-proof. Based on the cult 1970's movie starring Vincent Price, Improbable's new gore-spattered black comedy (created in collaboration with the National) is all about a bunch of theatre reviewers being bumped off by an old-school Shakespearean ham named Lionheart. He has been sent off his rocker by the journos' lacerating notices. They duly meet horrific ends: spurting buckets of blood from multiple stab wounds like Julius Caesar; being bibulously drowned in a butt of wine après Richard III or, as a variation on Titus Andronicus, being force-fed pet-poodle pie.

Obviously, I'd love to write a rave but, with my heart in my mouth, it has to be said this show is largely a flop. It is all too often feeble and dull, partly because it remains stuck in the Seventies and has not been satirically updated. The film itself was hit-and-miss, and this adaptation by Lee Simpson and director Phelim McDermott is patchy in its dialogue and its plot developments. On the positive side, the designer Rae Smith has constructed a magnificently dilapidated mini-Victorian theatre within the modernist frame of the Lyttelton.

McDermott introduces additional hallucinatory elements, with free-standing doors (of the props department variety) taking on a spinning life of their own and with the exterminations becoming nightmare playlets on an extra rolling stage. Sally Dexter's death throes, as the voluptuous critic Chloe Moon, are particularly splendid and - thanks to a fabulously ghastly magic trick by Paul Kieve - her head transmogrifies into a smoking skull.

Jim Broadbent is also enjoying himself as Lionheart, in ludicrously melodramatic mode, rolling his "r"s, standing as if in a permanent gale and stalking around as if he has invisible clods of mud on his shoes.

However, this is little more than a historical curiosity and wears very thin. There is food for thought near the close, with a heated debate about critics' ethics, plus a novel twist where Improbable turn a critical spotlight on the NT itself. In the end, though, this only condemns their own show.

To 27 August. 020 7452 3000

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