Review: The Phlebotomist

The Phlebotomist at Hampstead Theatre until 20 April. More information here

IN BRIEF Slow-burning drama ignites into a complex battle between cold science and humanity, driven by a magnetic central performance and a strong script

“Wherever there’s a system, people will find a way to cheat it”. So says one of the characters in THE PHLEBOTOMIST, returning to Hampstead theatre after a sellout run last year, now expanded and fully-produced, shortlisted for an Olivier Award and also for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award. Not bad for writer Ella Road’s debut play.

Bea is a phlebotomist (or blood taker), in a future just a few years away where people’s life chances are ruled by their (1 to 10) genetic rating from one single blood test.

Bea’s quirky, a little insecure and a 7.1. She meets and falls for Aaron, who is charming, literary, and a desirable 8.9. They slowly fall for each other. When Bea’s friend Char’s rating test reveals she is developing Huntingdon’s disease, which will ruin her rating, she implores Bea to replace her blood for a better rated sample so that she can continue with her top job.

So begins Bea’s entanglement in the dark world of blood swapping, rapidly becoming used to the extra money. She buys new stuff, gets a bigger flat with Aaron, all is going well. Until the secrets and lies this relationship are built on come to light. Inequalities test them and things start to unravel, spiralling to a devastating conclusion. The near-silent, still coda is both potent and moving.

Personally, I always feel that work based “in the future” creates a sense of distance or “unreality” which is hard to overcome, especially on stage, but here the feelings and emotions are palpable, drawing you in slowly and quietly through act one and then haemorrhaging out in act two. Writer Road’s background as an actor has helped her to produce well-crafted dialogue that works, which the actors use to its fullest. Hooking us with that universal concern about our health, she gets under our skin in a most effective way, as evidenced by the intense concentration of the audience around me. To feel an audience “lean in” to a show is special; but this audience did.

The ingenious modular set design also serves as screens; as they are gradually removed in a metaphor for breakdown, underlining the unease generated. Video projected onto the screens is used to cover scene changes and the scenes, although variable, are mostly effective. Overall the balance of visual elements and dialogue is very successful.

Jade Anouka as Bea is magnetic, giving a vital, detailed and heartfelt portrayal. She makes Bea easy to care about. She and Rory Fleck Byrne (as quiet but simmering Aaron, a good performance but just occasionally lacking vocal projection) are well-matched, both returning from last year’s run. Direction is tight and economical, suited to the material. The show has also expanded well from the small downstairs studio and now feels as if it has fully reached its stage potential. (And, as I suggested previously, it has been optioned for TV.)

Pointing up a whole raft of ideas, from ethics, to responsibility to oneself and the unborn child, self-esteem, of truth and lies, and their ultimate consequences, THE PHLEBOTOMIST is a passionately-written, compelling and unsettling view of an uncertain future world. Book quickly before it sells out. Again.

The Phlebotomist runs at Hampstead Theatre until 20 April. Tickets and more information here

Manchester theatregoers! – The Funeral Director is coming…

This week only! The Funeral Director concludes its tour in Manchester. Details here

Calling all Manchester theatregoers who enjoy new writing. The winner of the 2018 Papatango Playwriting competition (from over 1300 entries) is The Funeral Director, and it’s coming to Manchester this week, courtesy of English Touring Theatre.

Five star and four star reviews greeted this play when it first opened, and now Manchester theatregoers have a chance to see this accomplished new play for themselves.

Iman Qureshi’s The Funeral Director is an incisive and heartfelt story of sexuality, gender and religion in 21st century Britain. It is well worth a visit.

Life as the director of a Muslim funeral parlour isn’t always easy, but Ayesha has things pretty sorted. She and Zeyd share everything: a marriage, a business, a future. Until Tom walks in to organise his boyfriend’s funeral. A snap moral decision, informed by the values of Ayesha’s community and faith, has profound consequences. Forced to confront a secret she has hidden even from herself, Ayesha must decide who she is – no matter the cost. Brilliant actress Aryana Ramkhalawon returns to play Ayesha giving a riveting and taut performance in this well-written show which tackles complex issues with care and humanity.

From 27 to 30 March, the show is at HOME Manchester at 7.45pm daily. On Wednesday 27 there is a post-show Q&A, Friday 29th the show is caption subtitled and on Saturday 30th the performance is audio described. more information and tickets here

Theatre, the perfect Mother’s Day Treat! UPDATED WITH OFFERS

MUMS, show this article to your kids.

KIDS, get planning a treat for Mum, she deserves it!

March 31st is Mothers Day in the UK, so knowing that a lot of you will be buying flowers, having lunch, afternoon tea, and so many other ways of celebrating, that I thought you might like to consider a better kind of treat for your Mum. A show!

As the day is always a Sunday, most theatres will be closed outside of London, sadly. However for those of you near or with access to London, how about considering these shows which are playing on Sunday 31st?

For Mums who like a bit of eye candy and sixties music Rip It Up (the 60s), at the Garrick, has two shows at 2.00pm and 7.30pm, details here


For Mums who like a lot more eye candy! Magic Mike Live, at the Hippodrome, has two shows at 7.30pm and 10.00pm, details here

For Mums who like a bit of spectacle The Lion King, at the Lyceum, has a show at 2.30pm, details here

For Mums who like stories about kids Matilda, at the Cambridge, has a show at 3.00pm, details here

For Mums who love Michael Jackson Thriller Live, at the Lyric, has two shows, at 3.30pm and 7.30pm, details here


For Mums who love a good laugh The Play That Goes Wrong has two shows at 3.00pm and 7.00pm, details here

Also For Mums who love a good laugh The Comedy About A Bank Robbery has two shows at 3.00pm and 7.00pm, details here


For Mums who love a bit of Shakespeare Richard III, at Alexandra Palace Theatre, has a show at 7.30pm, details here

For Mums who love a power musical Six The Musical, at the Arts Theatre, has two shows at 4.00pm and 7.00pm, details here

For Mums who love a bit of a murder mystery Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall, has a show at 3.00pm , details here

For Mums who love Harry Potter Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Palace Theatre, has a show at 1.00pm (Part One) and 6.30pm (Part Two), details here

OR, If you fancy celebrating on the Saturday, then why not share the magic of a top London musical with your Mum, from classic favourites including Les Mis, Mamma Mia! and The Phantom of the Opera, to great new productions such as Waitress and 9 to 5 The Musical. All of these five shows have a matinee and evening performance on Saturday 30th March.

Burnley Empire Theatre sold for £1; gets another chance at life

The Burnley Empire starts along the road to recovery. Photo courtesy Mark Salmon

East Lancashire’s last surviving Victorian theatre, the Grade II listed Burnley Empire, has been bought by a supporters group with the intention to bring it back to life after almost 25 years of neglect.

Opened in 1894, the 1200-seater venue lasted for 101 years as a theatre, cinema, and then bingo hall, until closing in 1995.

Previous owners the Duchy of Lancaster sold the building to the Trust for £1.

Since 1995, the building has slowly decayed, not helped by an arson attack and the deterioration of the building’s roof. The theatre has accordingly been on the Theatres Trust’s annual Theatres At Risk Register for many years.

The new owners, Burnley Empire Limited, operating through the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT) have made their first priority to make the building weather-tight and then to commence plans for restoration.

Let’s wish them well for the revival of this prized community asset and an historic part of Burnley’s social fabric. And if you live locally, please give a hand, if you can, to bring this sleeping beauty back to life.

Learn more about the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust here

Learn more about the excellent work of the Theatres Trust and their Theatres at Risk Register here

A trip to EartH

EartH arts centre in Hackney, red entrance on the left for upstairs, blue entrance on the right for downstairs. Photo by unrestrictedtheatre

It’s so inspiring when you see a beautiful building being brought back into use after years of neglect. This is just what has happened to EartH, (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), hidden away in Dalston.

Built in 1936 as the Savoy cinema seating 1800 in a lavish Art Deco style, it survived into the early 80s before closure and later subdivision for a range of activities. Finally, in 2017/8, the building was brought back together again and after much work and cleaning, the spaces now consist of a first floor cafe/restaurant, a downstairs “black box” venue (in the former stalls) for concerts and music events for between 900-1200 people, and the best of all, in the former balcony, a 720-capacity arts/ performance/ cinema space which retains its richly decorated ceiling and the top half of the proscenium arch. Its current condition might best be described as “arrested decay”.

Interior shot showing upstairs space with laylight and richly decorated ceiling, photo unrestrictedtheatre

The fabric of the building has now been stabilised which has taken much effort in areas such as roofing, plasterwork, cleaning and many other areas which visitors cannot actually see. Although the circle space has yet to be restored, it’s easy to appreciate the volume, scale and quality of the decoration which has thankfully survived decades of neglect.

I visited EartH courtesy of the Cinema Theatre Association and their superb visits organiser Ken Roe. We were very fortunate to meet Josh, the enthusiastic House Manager who gave us a very warm welcome and spoke with genuine affection for the building, about making friends for the facility and also of ambitious plans for the future.

Savoy cinema original auditorium at opening in 1936, photo courtesy EartH website

Josh mentioned that the group who own the building have another large scale venue nearby, and we agreed that to find a venue this size in Dalston is a precious discovery, and one that will be much in demand; this, they have already proved with a packed programme of events practically every day. One point Josh made is that they never schedule events for the two spaces at the same time, bearing in mind the potential for “sound bleed”, and Josh mentioned that they have ambitions to address this in the future.

Together with the reputation EartH is already making for itself as a popular venue, and the friendly and enthusiastic management team, I feel confident that EartH is in safe hands. Thanks for your welcome, Josh. Let’s all wish them much success, and eventually- the money to do that upstairs restoration!

Savoy Cinema at opening in 1936, photo courtesy EartH website

Find out more about EartH and its events calendar here

To find out more about the great work of the Cinema Theatre Association and how they help to preserve our building heritage, visit their website here

Ceiling decoration detail (apologies for darkness of image) Photo by unrestrictedtheatre