In Japan and Korea it is customary to ask people what their blood type is. That is so unlike the Brits. If curious, we tend to ask more about one’s zodiac sign or horoscope. It sounds rather strange and science-y but Japanese and Korean people believe that each blood type (A, B, AB, and O) has its own set of personality traits. Now imagine a world where the only piece of data that was important, more vital than your privacy, was the rating and condition of your blood; your genetic blueprint could disclose your life expectancy, job prospects and chances of finding a healthy partner. No doubt, it would be a scary place.
Showing downstairs at The Hampstead Theatre is The Phlebotomist: a challenging and thought-provoking piece of theatre set in a dystopian clinic. Written by Ella Road (making her debut at the theatre) and directed by Sam Yates, people’s survival rates are put under a microscope.
Verifying people’s blood and stripping their DNA of precious and life-changing information is Bea: the phlebotomist. ‘I just take blood… I don’t know anything…’ she says, but, really, she plays the hand of God with people’s lives without knowing it. Jane Anouka performs Bea like a tour de force. She’s fantastic with Road’s full-on and matter of fact writing. Bea falls for the charming and blood-verified Aaron, strongly performed by Rory Fleck Byrne. Together they play an intimate and smitten pair stifled by a restrictive system that sucks the joy out of life’s many pleasures.
With a broad understanding of the currency of blood, Bea finds ways to hustle, on the side, and manages to provide a little reprieve for her close friend, Char, who discovers she has less than a few years to live before Huntington’s Disease takes over her brain completely. Cherrelle Skeete, as Char, and Anouka’s character display a solid friendship that soon collapses when they realise that survival takes precedence over anything else. Skeete, performing as Bea’s foil, is brilliant. Although he plays a small role, Vincent Ebrahim neatly encapsulates the philosophical personality of David who, has tried many high-level roles but, finds solace and deep contentment as a low-level janitor.
Stage designer, Rosanna Vize, sets the stage in a traverse format, with the audience on both sides of the room. The stage slowly accumulates the cast’s many shoes and clothes they change into, similar to dead skin cells shedding away. And Duncan McLean’s video clips of futuristic advertisements, with some comic ideas; others, repulsive, are clever and authentic because as the play goes on the videos depict how screwed up their reality truly is.
Think Ethan Hawke in the 1997 film Gattaca, if you wish, but for the theatre this is a fresh way of asking existential questions such as: what are you willing to sacrifice in order to survive? Yates’s production is gripping and engaging, and the close-up, intimate staging puts human virtues: one’s moral compass and honesty, into clear focus. Grab a ticket if you can.
The Phlebotomist is now showing to May 19. Click here to purchase tickets on the Hampstead Theatre website here.