Walking to the Meat Market Stables for the 7.30 show I passed Royal Melbourne Hospital. In the chilled darkness of Grattan Street three fire trucks sat, their lights gyrating off the hospital’s exterior, firemen sitting calmly inside. It struck me as odd that the visual panic was so unmatched in expression, compared to the reality of the situation. Another piece of toast gone slightly wrong.
You Are The Blood revels in the smell of something burned on the theatre’s air. The Australian premiere of Ashley Rose Wellman’s play delves deep into what lingers after a slasher film ends, picking up twenty years after Shelby Boden’s father is incarcerated for unspeakable acts. We follow the Boden’s turmoil when young performance artist Sylvia becomes engaged to the interned David Boden via correspondence. Seeking catharsis, Shelby intervenes with increasing desperation as the wedding hurtles closer.
The play paints broadly over what it means to be both a victim of trauma and the inheritor of its cause. Shelby’s messy life speaks of a desperation for escape mixed with understanding that the pain of her life, of her father, is always literally underfoot. The third act never rises again to the visceral wrench of its open and the show’s end feels glossy. If there is anything to criticise here it is that the scope of the show heaves too wide, leaning on cliche for neatness of logic instead of settling with the earlier mess that thrills.
Performances are assured, with special mention to Andrew Blackman’s psychopathy and the admirability of Jem Nicholas’ pitiful Sylvia; though the story told isn’t her’s, Sylvia becomes the emotional core of You Are The Blood, at once vulnerable and guarded, beautifully human. Peter Blackburn’s direction luxuriates in tension, twisting the dramaturgical arm behind our backs til we ask for relief.
This atop a set heightening intimacy with distance, at once clever and pleasing.
The richness on display here more than makes up for any source weakness, and I recommend You Are The Blood for its audacity. It leans on consequence where most others walk through action. Between the hospital and the theatre I thought not of those rushing red trucks but of the tea room drama hidden from me with its players and placing of blame. In a game of burned toast there are no winners – how awful then, in a game of lives set alight?
You Are The Blood runs from July 12 – 26 at the Meatworks Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne, Victoria 3051. Purchase tickets here.