Blood Bank is a new Australian play by a new writer Christopher Harley, at the Ensemble Theatre. It was part of the Ensemble Stages 2013 Spring Reading.
It is set in the waiting room of a blood bank. Michael is waiting to donate blood to his very ill twin brother Justin, both played, well, by Tom Stokes. There they are both accosted – separately, of course – by a noisy (obnoxious) young woman, Abbey, played by Gabrielle Scawthorn. A love story, of a kind develops, and the consequences between the three become complicated by illness, sex, death, guilt and a frustrated anger. Only 90 minutes long the play production begins and ends with a video backstory (AV: Tim Hope) that is, also, interspersed throughout the live action of the play. We watch and hear the two boys, Michael and Justin, as children, on an adventure in the ‘bush’ with their brother Ben, who dies in some kind of accident. Justin carries the memory of that day terribly, still, along with his illness.
The writing is promising in some of the dialogue exchanges, but the play is tedious in its very familiar and obvious narrative-content and seems to ‘glory’ in its sentimentality, never knowing when to end – there are so many endings – it felt like a slow drip torture. As well, some of the incidents of the play, such as nursing staff leaving a box of freshly collected blood bags in the waiting room unattended, are hardly credible, and derail one’s suspension of belief, and the ‘romantic’ directorial touches e.g. the dropping of snow with moody music seems more than a trifle over-egged for a feel-good sentiment, at the play’s end. (I recollected Anthony Skuse’s similar tendencies in his production of Caress/Ache earlier this year).
The efforts of all the artists involved: Anthony Skuse, director; Tobhiyah Stone Feller, designer (the very simple set design does double duty, being the space used for the Ensemble’s concurrent production David Hare’s My Zinc Bed, as well); Nicholas Higgins, lighting; as well as the actors, including Meredith Penman, (over)playing a number of subsidiary, thinly written functionary roles, entertained the small audience I was with, some of them moved by the production.
It is interesting to see the work of a new Australian writer (part of the reason for my trekking over the bridge, despite the trains being cancelled), but I had an experience that made me to want to get out the blue-pen and edit it, shorten it, and to dilute the overwritten heart-tugging calamities of the text and production.
Mr Harley has another new play scheduled for the Darlinghurst Season of 2016: Remembering Pirates, in September-October. Peter Pan etc, it seems.
Company: Ensemble Theatre
Venue: Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney
Dates: to 22 November 2015
For more of Kevin Jackson’s theatre reviews, check out his blog at Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television