Vicious Fish Theatre
25 June 2010
Sergei Belbel's Blood asks what are the limits of a common morality and tests them with exposure to torture. It's an uncomfortable night in the theatre that leaves its audience shellshocked. But, like going on a roller coaster, the experience is worth the fear.
This production continues Scott Gooding and Vicious Fish Theatre's commitment to the works of Catalan playwright Sergi Belbel. Blood follows productions of Caresses and After The Rain. If reviews are to be believed, one was amazing and the other got a bit lost.
In Blood, a woman is kidnapped and told that over the next 40 hours she will lose a finger, an ear, a foot and her head unless her husband pays up. Her torturers try to ease her physical pain, but consider her life a necessary loss for their (unknown) cause. In a circular structure, filled with literal and metaphorical images of blood, we are taken from the torture room to the discoveries of her body parts, and returned to see the results.
Director Gooding quickly makes his audience uneasy with a flash of blinding light followed by a room that's uncomfortably dark, but light enough to see what we don't want to see. The text describes the importance of a clean amputation, but the visceral reactions come from the sound of an electric saw and the fearless performance of Janine Watson.
The sickening anticipation of pain and fear in the opening scene creates a physical reaction that draws the audience through to the conclusion, and the comedy that immediately follows offers some respite, but the relief is slightly frustrating.
Comedy isn't jokes and wit; it's how we get through every day. We laugh at ourselves and the world, so we can cope with the tedious and the unbearable. It's why we hear great jokes at funerals and why there's always some humour in great art. There is a lot of humour in Blood, but the laughs are sometimes misplaced and take us away from the story by reminding us that it's all a game of pretend, rather than giving us the breathing space to cope with the anticipation of the horror that's to come. This style of humour works best when we are laughing only to stop ourselves from running or puking and the comedy could be toned down in order to make the laughs awkward and uncomfortable.
Watson, Alison Adriano, Chloé Boreham, Jon Peck, James Tresise and Kassandra Whitson are all strong performers who understand the nuances and guts of Blood, but they are not always compelling because they are bringing us the text and the plot, rather than letting us see the stories about people discovering the unimaginable.
One of the strengths of the script is that is brings the hidden blood of the torture room to our everyday world. As the audience know what's in the appendage-sized packages, the middle scenes have to be about the people who discover the packages. To sustain the gut-churning emotion of the opening, we have to care as much about every character as we do about the woman being tortured. Complete and complex people need to be on the stage, so that instead of asking why on earth the woman doesn't just walk away from the world's most annoying man, we're wanting two damaged souls to find love on that park bench and wondering how the discovery of an amputated finger is going to change their chances.
Theatre is moments of change. Each character is a different person at the end of their scene and showing more of that change, and more of the lightness before the dark, will bring the empathy and closeness that will leave the audience unable to breathe.
The Blood text also suffers from a very literal English translation, to the point that words and phrases received giggles simply because they didn't sound right to the audience or feel right to the actors. Stage language by its nature is contrived and it's up to the actors to make it sound like it is the most natural and only logical way that people talk in this world. The language shouldn't get in the way of what the playwright and creators are saying.
Shows as unnerving as Blood need to settle and change as audiences react. Having survived its first week, the time to see Blood is this week; not only because the season ends, but because it will be so much closer to being something you're unlikely to forget.
This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.