Directed by Anthony Skuse
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 16 October – 22 November
It is mystifying the way in which relationships can be formed whether by blood, or by serendipity, that can result in great dependence and impact each individual so profoundly. Sometimes these arise by each party’s volition, sometimes involuntarily, and yet it is evident that the presence of some relationships in people’s lives can be influential to a point of no return. Christopher Harley’s Blood Bank reckons with these relationships in their various forms, and Skuse’s direction results in a poignant piece, affective on a broad range of the emotional spectrum. Gabrielle Scawthorn and Tom Stokes ignite a beautiful energy on stage, which exhibits to the audience the fragility and power of human relationships, no matter how fleeting.
Blood Bank opens with a setting characterised by some ordinary chairs before a stack of dog-eared magazines. This is a transient place, a waiting place. The actors enter the space, bringing the relatively insipid environment to life – it appears that the characters could have been unconsciously waiting for the moment where their paths would cross. Scenes from various time frames are spliced together revealing more about the nature of each person’s significance to the other. Whilst initially the common thread is not obvious, it slowly becomes apparent, and in that process the witty dialogue and magnetic tension between characters holds captive the audience’s attention. Whilst I say ‘magnetic’ in the sense that some characters are instantly attracted to each other, forming a strong bond, other characters are polar-opposites and repel the other, no matter how hard one tries to come close.
This play relies on the richness of human dynamics on the stage, and Skuse’s work does not disappoint. The affinity between Scawthorn and Stokes is riveting. Scawthorn is impossible to ignore as Abbey, enrapturing the audience with her gregarious nature. With a knack for humour, she has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand from the very first moment. Additional to her comedic strength, Scawthorn handles dramatic tension through conditions of eagerness, romance, frustration and anguish with an enthralling sophistication. Stokes undertakes the challenging task of playing two main characters, Justin and Michael, who each have a contrasting relationship with Abbey at different points in their lives. With a few subtle adjustments Stokes alternates between characters, achieving a discernible embodiment of both Justin and Michael. The distinction is made most apparent in the character’s differing interactions with Abbey. In his performances, Stokes manages to be both reproachful, and congenial…aloof, and all-consumed. This is a distinguished achievement. A compelling picture is painted of the dichotomy between those leaving this world, and those left behind through the likened images of Justin and Michael. There is stunning work by these performers to behold.
Tobiyah Stone Feller’s sleek and angular set design is complemented by Tim Hope’s audio and video design, projected onto the expansive backdrop. Aiding the story telling of Michael and Justin’s childhood, this design element contributed to the depth and audience understanding of the characters and developed a wistful atmosphere shimmering with nostalgia. The design works to mute the background noise in the environment on stage, muffling the torrent of people that surround us, and yet leave us feeling lonelier than before. Through this quiet, and solace found in memory, the characters are able to engage with those who kindle a passion deep inside, and truly connect.
We all tend to crave true human connection, and when these cravings aren’t satisfied this can leave one with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Blood Bank reveals how loneliness can manifest in diverse ways in different people, and yet human connection is possible. Whether this connection is curtailed or unintentional, a person’s presence in another’s life has the capacity to make immeasurable transformations. Skuse’s production of Blood Bank underlines the ephemeral nature of life with great acclaim, being both fiercely personal and deeply touching.