On the surface, Blood seems like a simple story: boy meets girl, they fall in love, their family tears them apart and they find some way, somehow, to be together. It’s simple, Romeo-and-Juliet-plain. Yet what a complicated play, with complex thought and ideas and problems threatening to burst at the seams; it vibrates with cultural and personal nuance, edging towards despair but also humming with hope.
Rarely do we get a glimpse into the world of internal cultural strife, and Hussain’s script attacks this insular world with great aplomb. Her words do not merely leave the actors’ mouths, they spill and explode in long winding streams of poetry-prose that often leave you a little breathless. Often, accents clash with the words, enunciation is abandoned—this is disappointing, what with the lyrical improbability that is Hussain’s script. Yet, strangely enough, it still manages to work; accents make love with oily vowels. Sometimes you become unsure as to whether they’ve slipped into Arabic or Hindi. Language is only one way in which this play side-eyes the question of culture: what do we leave behind and where do we go from here? Both characters are caught in a circle (indeed, even we are, as the play’s beginning becomes its end); they repeat phrases, revisit ideas and problems that have no easy answers. By play’s end, I’m not too sure if we have any answers at all.
Pattani and Samuel-Bal are such a pleasure to watch, easily delivering complicated slang-heavy dialogue and narrative with. Pattani is the stronger of the two, but Samuel-Bal doesn’t lag far behind. They deliver “gruff teenagers from London” tempered by the vulnerability of young lovers perfectly. Caricatures of family members add welcome tones of humour. Through Pattani’s Caneze we see a world of women broken by their men, and the one girl who crawls out from beneath it all. She does not quite understand the reality of her society; she lives half-in and half-out of the play’s world. It is this dissonance that drives her from her mother’s house, and into a half-life in the aptly named Grimsby.
Yet perhaps for her, that it is a life of her own choosing is all that matters.
So many things—love, destiny, identity, family, fear—jostle for precedence in the play, but Hussain’s discourse on culture is most interesting: who are we outside our cultures and are we anything at all without culture? This struggle is embodied most in the play’s romance, most obviously in the unseen tension between Saif (Caneze’s older brother, and thug) and Sully. Caneze consistently repeats the words “gotta keep reminding myself”, reminding us of the importance of roots—at the same time, the desperation with which she utters those words probes the importance of roots. Sully whispers that sometimes “you just be.” If these things—culture and family and language—are driven deep in blood, are things you keep repeating and returning to, can you escape it? The characters are torn by the voices of the world around them (of mother, brother, aunt), but the play is strangely devoid of other voices. Only Caneze and Sully remain. Perhaps then, the answer is love.
- By Emteaz Hussain
- Directed by Esther Richardson
- Produced by Tamasha and The Belgrade Theatre Conventry
- Cast: Krupa Pattani and Adam Samuel-Bal
- Soho Theatre, London
- Until 16th May 2015
- Review by Samantha Cheh
- 2 May 2015