Sunday 23 June 2024

BLOOD IN THE WATER: Theatre Review

WHAT: Blood In The Water
WHEN: 20 - 30 June 2024
WHERE: La Mama Courthouse
WRITTEN BY: Jorja Bentley
DIRECTED BY: Tansy Gorman
DESIGNED BY: Bethany J Fellows
LIGHTING BY: Georgie Wolfe
SOUND DESIGN BY: Callum Cheah
PERFORMED BY: Chris Koch, Lana Schwarcz, Mia Tuco, and Karlis Zaid
STAGE MANAGED BY: Steph Lee

Mia Tuco, Chris Koch, Lana Schwarcz - photo by Darren Gill

It is sadly rarer than you might think but Blood In The Water, now playing at La Mama Courthouse, is a thoroughly engrossing play from start to finish. I guarantee you will not look at your watch once to see how much longer this is going to go on.

Written by Jorja Bentley, Blood In The Water is a play which investigates the life altering effect on a family when the son is accused of rape. Riffing off similar concepts to Duck Duck Goose, Blood In The Water takes a more intimate approach, focussing on the family. It delves deep into the murky waters of public perception, child rearing, and motherly love.

Bentley's script is almost impeccable. It keeps the ideas swirling and expanding, the characters shifting and evolving, and the relationships pushing and pulling across the hour and a half in which the tale is told. We never meet the son - the accused. We don't need to. The story is not about what he did. It investigates what is revealed about the people who are closest to him - or who thought they were closest to him - his family.

The story revolves around his mother Ruth (Chris Koch), his younger sister Jen (Mia Tuco), his stepfather Ruben (Karlis Zaid), and his aunt Sal (Lana Schwarcz). Ruben is a local politician who is running for Mayor, and he uses all of his political pull and questionable morality to keep everything quiet and try and keep his stepson out of jail. Ruth is ripped apart as she chooses which child to support and creates a narrative for herself which allow her to continue to fight for her son. Jen wallows in the morass of paparazzi pressure, online bullying and parental abandonment whilst trying to finish her schooling. Aunt Sal (Ruby's sister) is the port in a storm, objective outsider, and sisterly ear, trying to keep reason, logic, and safety front and centre in an ever-widening abyss of despair and distress.

Tansy Gorman has directed the show well, and helped the actors find great depth and nuance in their characters. It is this authenticity of performances which keeps the audience engrossed. The one thing which gets in the way of the show is that it seems as if neither Gorman nor designer Bethany J Fellows understand the power positions on a stage and this weakens the audience connection preventing the show from being truly cathartic.

The set is stunning, with golden hued cloths creating a faux proscenium set up of 2 sets of legs and borders and then a full cloth across the upstage wall. The problem lies in the impressive dinner table which takes up centre stage (and because of its size, most of the playing space). 

Centre stage is the most powerful place on stage. NEVER give it to a piece of furniture! As well as this, Gorman never uses down stage centre which is the second most powerful place on stage. Instead that just remains a black well of darkness with a couple of throw away scenes played in front of the proscenium in the far left and right corners. Just about everything else is played behind or beside the table. Once you put something between the actor and the audience the relationship is immediately weakened. Luckily, in this show the story and the performances are sooooo good they survive these big theatrical missteps, and the show is still riveting.

The entire cast of Blood In The Water is strong, but Schwarcz and Tuco really keep the energy and tensions sizzling. Zaid and Koch do keep up with them, but Koch needs to work on articulation (which is a weird thing to have to say as she is a voice coach). Luckily there are captions for this play so if you miss anything you can read the words on the screen. The set is beautiful, despite my issues with the table, and Georgia Wolfe lights the show elegantly to match it.  Callum Cheah's sound design is subtle and effective.

Blood In The Water raises a lot of questions about parenting, families, and living through crises. At one point I did think it was a bit heavy on the mum blaming. I can't even begin to imagine how you would navigate this situation without making big mistakes and there is nothing in the play which addresses the biological father and his role in... well... everything! The only thing I didn't get was the closing line by Jen. I think it needs to be set up better to land with the punch it is intended to.

There is a huge amount of really good theatre on the stages of Melbourne this week, but Blood In The Water is up there with the best of all of it. Don't miss it!

4.5 Stars

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