This new, outdoor show from the innovative company imitating the dog (ITD) is a sanguinary tale of local authority corruption – social commentary delivered with schlock and gore. A dastardly trio of mayor, headteacher and architect, motivated by hypocrisy, ambition and greed, connives to push through plans for a megalithic casino – the Devil’s Playground – to the benefit of none in the town but themselves. Just as their scheme arrives at fruition, Dr Blood (Matt Prendergast) presents them with a last temptation. A carnivalesque road to hell beckons – think a Quentin Tarantino/Punch and Judy mash-up, with a dash of Brechtian relish.
A programme note explains that this touring co-production (with Leeds Playhouse) was conceived as a gift to venues that are struggling to present work in these tough times, as well as to audiences starved of live entertainment. It was put together, amid ever-changing Covid-19 regulations, in just over two weeks by its trio of artistic directors (Andrew Quick, Pete Brooks – co-writers and directors, and Simon Wainwright – projection and video design), together with seven other company members. Given these circumstances, it’s not surprising that the writing is, at times, raggedy, the plotting occasionally bumpy. Not that these faults detract; in a way, they add to the tawdry, fairground-noir feel of the production and highlight its atmosphere of impending doom.
The rough-and-ready quality of the piece also frees up the actors to be more playful than in other, more technically precise ITD productions. It’s a real pleasure to watch the three performers, Laura Atherton, Keicha Greenidge and Prendergast, as they manage to sing and dance, take on different characters, don grotesque masks and manipulate puppets, while simultaneously shifting moving screens (featuring digital projections), operating live-feed cameras and driving a model car through a dense forest in dead of night. They deliver blood and violence with gusto and, provided you’re not squeamish, devilish good fun.