Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Oct 16 – Nov 22, 2015
Playwright: Christopher Harley
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Meredith Penman, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Tom Stokes
Image by Clare Hawley
At a hospital, death is everywhere, but characters in Christopher Harley’s Blood Bank experience life while the palpable presence of time hangs over each of their heads. The script is tender and sensitive, with humour always close at hand in its explorations into our darkest moments of illness. It is an imperfect script, with dubious relationship dynamics and a plot structure that requires further refinement, but each scene is charming, and beautifully rhythmic. Its themes keep the play firmly in a space that is thoughtful and profound. We can all relate to the narratives that unfold; whether light or heavy, its ideas appeal to our deepest feelings relating to the biggest of concerns, love and death.
Blood Bank is a consistently engaging work, buoyed by strong performances. Gabrielle Scawthorn is powerful at both ends of the emotional spectrum. She is an effective comic who identifies every opportunity for laughter, keen to bring a joyous energy to the stage, and does not hesitate to plunge into her character Abbey’s guilt and grief, with a resonant authenticity that can be quite touching. Her counterpart Tom Stokes takes a more subtle approach, but is no less convincing in his portrayal of psychological truths. The part is a sorrowful one, and it is to the actor’s credit that there is little self-indulgence to be found. Instead, Stokes’ honest interpretation creates moments of poignancy, and establishes a brilliant chemistry in the cast that is often the highlight of the production. Director Anthony Skuse magnifies all the nuances of the script so that our experience of the show is a rich and vibrant one. He holds our attention by tapping into our intimate fears, and makes believable what could have been tenuous at best.
There are things that we sweep under the carpet, so that life can move on. It is true that no matter how much philosophising we put it through, death must be, but it is also the awareness that all things come to an end, that gives us the desire to cherish them. Art about mortality therefore serves an important function. In shining a light on the end, we become acutely mindful of the now. Blood Bank talks about the choices we make, when we have little time left. It also reminds us, that time is always scarce, whether we are living or dying. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.'”