"Blood is thicker than water". At least, that's the idea. Family is the beginning and the end, something you don't choose and can never escape. Though perhaps someone should tell writer Emteaz Hussain that the original meaning of that phrase, repeated throughout, is the opposite of what we now take it to be.
"The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb". The phrase actually indicates family is not an exclusionary bond and that some connections run deeper. This is the same sort of warped logic and deep cultural entrenchment that the young lovers of Blood struggle against.
Hussain transposes the Romeo and Juliet narrative onto the modern British-Asian family unit. It's always a risky move, inviting comparison to The Bard, but it pays off well in Blood. The echoes of Montague and Capulet violence reverberate into the 21st century as the play depicts the struggles of a young couple on opposite sides of gang violence and rigid Asian cultural codes. A real sense of uneasiness hangs over the production as Caneze and Sully, Krupa Pattani and Adam Samuel-Bal, conduct their relationship in secret.
This is very much a modern show, almost strenuously so. Half-stories run back and forth between the pair, half told through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp (ad infinitum) during their uneasy courtship. The music is brilliantly composed; edgy faded beats punctuate the narrative, sounding like they could have been made in the bedroom studio of any aspiring 16-year old. The set is a scatter of scaffolding which is thrown into a multitude of different spaces through clever lighting. Though the show is a two-hander, all this background means the actors never seem to be alone. This is a great mood builder while also keeping the energy high. Useful, as it does have a tendency to drop.
The actors themselves run through a variety of characters at a fast pace, snapping between past and present, internal and external monologue. It is a demanding performance for both audience and actor and when the dialogue is scattered with slang it can be hard to follow. This is probably the point doe, ya get me? Pattani and Samuel-Bal move in an out of characters so often that they become almost vessels for the voices of authority and social pressure around them. Coupled with the fluid dialogue, the performance strongly evokes that period of powerless adolescence.
Caneze and Sully feel like real people bouncing off of tough social constraints. Director Esther Richardson has done a great job in creating this. The story does lack a little of the universal quality that it aims towards, gang culture and arranged marriage probably not reflective of the wider Asian community. However it is fantastic to see more diverse theatre on the market, especially of this calibre.
Blood tours the UK until 27 June, visiting London, Birmingham, Bradford, Redbridge, Oxford, Bolton, Glasgow, Derby, Luton and Leicester