Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh: Tue 1 – Sat 12 November 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Strong performances and notably high production values distinguish Grain In The Blood at the Traverse, but an initially chilling ambience is not sustained.
The play – about Isaac, a prisoner returning to the remote cottage that was his family home, having been given the chance to make up partly for his crimes – is by Rob Drummond, who has had several notable recent successes. The co-production by the Traverse and Glasgow’s Tron also features a cast and creative team featuring several notable names, but ultimately fails to convince entirely.
It all starts so promisingly, with a suitably eerie atmosphere brilliantly conjured up by subtle changes in Simon Wilkinson’s chiaroscuro lighting, reminiscent of film noir, and by Michael John McCarthy’s spooky sound design. Fred Meller’s apparently solid set soon reveals hidden depths, and Orla O’Loughlin’s direction adds to the cinematic aura.
Even these sterling efforts cannot sustain the piece. Much is made of hints of folklore, as if seeking to add an air of timeless mystery. The problem is that having been introduced, their power is effectively dismissed. There have been plenty of examples of remote Scottish rural locations, with an attendant spirit of place, being used in a variety of media either as magic realism or straight-out horror; here it is just window dressing.
The structure is also suspect, with a lurch into outright melodrama that is not excused by some of the developments being so clearly signalled. Some interesting points about ethical dilemmas, which would work well delivered in the inviting, slightly tricksy persona Drummond has adopted in his audience-participation pieces, just sound weird put into the mouths of his characters.
This detracts from some otherwise very fine performances. Blythe Duff is impressive as ever as matriarch Sofia, while her former Taggart colleague John Michie gives security guard Burt, Isaac’s escort, a conflicted, crumpled stillness.
Frances Thorburn, Sarah Miele, Andrew Rothney, John Michie, Blythe Duff. Photo by Michaela Bodlovic
Andrew Rothney’s Isaac is an even more tortured soul, effectively expressing huge sorrow and regret. Frances Thorburn gives Violet a definite edge; all of the cast do more than justice to characters who lack development.
Sarah Miele is exceptionally good as sickly Autumn, with both youth and frailty superbly evoked; however, the character is set up initially as a mythopoeic figure in a way that even Drummond seems to have trouble believing.
Although the troubling atmosphere dissipates long before the end, the efforts of so many at least retain interest. The suspicion remains, however, that this could have been much better.
Running time 1 hour 25 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 12 November 2016
Tue – Sat 7.30 pm, Matinee Saturday 12, 2.30 pm.
Tickets and details: http://www.traverse.co.uk/