Emteaz Hussain’s Blood stops off at the Soho Theatre on its UK tour, after its premiere in Coventry last month. A kind of Romeo and Juliet for the modern age (but so much more than a reworking), the play is set in a Midlands Pakistani community and tells the story of Caneze and Sully, with surprising warm humour alongside its darker overtones.
Told only through the memories and dialogue of the couple themselves, the play’s success is found in the spark and chemistry between the two cast members, Krupa Pattani and Adam Samuel-Bal. Both impress as they tackle the light and shade of this piece, Pattani with her mature approach to difficult subject matters, and Samuel-Bal with his delicate balance of the goofy and the serious, which makes the character so appealing. You find yourselves really rooting for the couple as their apparently ordinary teen romance is forced onto a larger, more dangerous stage by the social and political issues in their community.
Hussain neatly weaves the comic and the alarming throughout this one-act play: for example, a running joke about Sully’s laughable attempts at rap segues into Caneze’s attempts to express herself through words and poetry, as she battles against her increasing anger and frustration. Indeed, there is a strong sense of rhythm throughout the show: the dialogue, which often switches fluidly between each character, has a powerful pulse, sometimes oddly syncopated but always driving forwards. These linguistic rhythms, frequently verging on poetry or rap even when ostensibly prosaic, are backed by a pulsating electronic soundscape that complements the script perfectly, for which Arun Ghosh deserves high praise indeed.
The simple, boxy set design by Sarah Perks ensures that this relatively small space is used efficiently for different scene changes, and it is an additional delight to see which nook, cranny or cupboard will be used next, and in what imaginative way. Aideen Malone’s lighting design is used in a similarly varied way, helping to constrict and expand the performing space from an intimate date in Nandos to literal and emotional gaps between Cazene and Sully.
While the sense of foreboding is never far away, Pattani and Samuel-Bal, well directed by Esther Richardson, create a sense of earnest warmth and humour that keep this play from descending too far into horrors. While some might say this takes the edge off the seriousness and darkness of some of the issues explored, it seems rather to throw into sharp relief the fragile innocence of teenaged life. Furthermore, their relationship draws you in with its endearingly comic personality, before the shadows lurking underneath are revealed.
This is an engaging piece that bravely tackles some big problems and questions, but never loses its big heart that lies at the centre. With two absorbing and entertaining performances at its centre, Blood hardly puts a foot wrong and is well worth a watch both for its social interest, and its fantastic combination of exemplary writing, performing and designing in one.
Blood is playing at the Soho Theatre until 17 May. For tickets and more information see the Soho Theatre website. Photo by Robert Day.