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BLOODLUST (in the Ambassador until November 11) rewrites theatre history.

 

It takes on Shakespearean drama and everything that followed, in the process fixing that tradition’s most striking weakness: too much thinking, not enough feeling.

 

And while Macbeth and Hamlet offered Elizabethan audiences many a scary moment, you had to be a Duke or a Prince sit onstage, to feel that The Three Weird Sisters might actually come and git you.

 

But with Bloodlust your twenty-odd quid will get you up close and personal to something far scarier than the Bard’s safely-distant witches.

 

The Ambassador show challenges what Marshall McLuhan called “the western habit of detachment”: when you’re in you’re in, and the stakes could not be higher.

 

Achievement

 

Here, it’s important to offer an assurance, one that also happens to illustrate director/
producer/designer Brendan Savage’s achievement as an artist.

 

No one’s going to kill you; in fact, the ghosties won’t even touch you.

 

But you will emerge, weeping or laughing or both, feeling that you’ve been given a gift-wrapped present of your own life.

 

That’s not just me talking. Afterwards, self and partner saw fellow-survivors, wide-eyed, exhilarated. There was a shared feeling that the world outside that terrible crypt had suddenly become more precious and far more interesting.

 

When was the last time you felt that about an offering in the Abbey or the Gate?

 

It turns out that the hidden theme of Bloodlust is not death at all — but life.

 

And while other productions discuss life-and-death ideas, or examine them, or symbolise them, or dramatise them (with greater or lesser degrees of urgency and success), Bloodlust actually drags you, screaming, into its subject-matter.

 

It allows you understand what it means — and more important, what it feels like — to be alive. What other shows and plays are about, Bloodlust actually is.

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Bloodlust is so fresh and original that any description would require spoiler alerts, so I’ll draw a bloody veil over the details.

 

Convincing

 

But it gives away nothing to say that (barring a short video introduction) this is a live show; and that making it all happen are the most committed and convincing troupe of performers I’ve seen in a lifetime going to shows in Dublin, the West End and Broadway.

 

David Mamet’s wretched band of thieves in Glengarry, Glen Ross (the original Broadway cast including the incomparable Criminal Minds star Joe Mantegna) runs the Bloodlust crew a respectable second in leaving me shattered, horrified, thrilled and transformed.

 

But the experience of surviving Bloodlust — and the triumph of staggering back into the bar of the Ambassador, alive — beggars comparison with anything I’ve experienced in fifty years attending plays, performances and “immersive theatre”, worldwide.

 

It’s fun, it’s funny and it’s very, very scary, but it’s something more, too. This is great drama — a fact that highbrow critics appear to have missed.

 

However, all such historic developments have been greeted with bafflement or contempt by those who ought to know better. Fortunately, and as so often, Local News has spotted what the mainstream media have missed. Their arrogant indifference, if history is anything to go by, only adds weight to any claims for this show’s importance.

 

Adrenaline effect

 

All that said, it is no sin to approach Bloodlust as hen-party fun. But don’t think that’s all it is. And don’t think it won’t change you. It will.

 

And it has already changed the history of the theatre, bending to near-breaking point the line between the experience of life and the experience of art.

 

Front Row
Review by
Paul Kelly

                                Five stars plus (out of five) BLOODLUST: Rise of the Vampirates. Written, directed, produced and designed by Brendan Savage. Cast credits not available.

Ambassador, Parnell Square, Dublin 1. Runs until Nov 11 only. Daily, 6:00pm to 11:00pm (last admission approx. 10:15pm); Fri Sat Sun from 4:00pm. See mcd.ie for details. Tickets €21–€23. Under 14s accompanied by an adult.

Its creator jokingly describes this as his “adrenaline effect”, but here Mr Savage is short-changing himself. There is pacing and suspense more intricate at play here than in the simple scares of the carnival ghost-train (though his earlier show, Carnevil, owes something to that tradition).

 

He pulls off what many a great stage pioneer tried to do and failed: in Paris in the late 1800s, Oscar Méténier, Max Maurey, André de Lorde and the creators of sensationalist grand guignol melodrama did their best to return something visceral and urgent to the conventional stage. Their efforts were short-lived; and at any rate appealed only to the inner circle of Paris bohemia.

 

Sensations

 

In the 1960s, Peter Brook had another go, with shows like his confrontational production of Marat/Sade in the West End. The critic Kenneth Tynan observed of Brook: “He belongs to the future, because he is obsessed not by words but by sights and sensations.”

 

That’s Brendan Savage territory precisely.

 

But he has succeeded where grand guignol and even Brook valiantly failed: he has forever restored dramatic performance to its pre-Elizabethan, pre-verbal roots (mystery plays, religious rite); and, crucially, made of this mix of action and ritual a compelling popular entertainment.

 

Savage, for his part, does not demand deep transformation, much less conversion, but he gets it all the same. His only dogma is that being alive is precious, and that we need to be reminded of this fact... and he’s making converts three or four pilgrims at a time.

 

In all this the creator of Bloodlust commands vast, unexplored new territories all on his own.

 

The show thus represents a paradigm shift of historic importance. It ranks Savage’s achievement in world theatre up there with anything accomplished by Wilde, O’Casey or Beckett. Another great figure in Irish drama has come into his own. No other theatre critic will tell you this, but we just have. Now go.

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