Hampstead Theatre, London – 20 April 2019
I used to date a geneticist. Well ‘Bobby the Biotec scientist’ as I knew him is now professor of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, so the themes of The Phlebotomist recently transferred from the studio to the main house at Hampstead Theatre would be right up his street.
In an only slightly dystopian slightly distant future, the genetic imprint from a blood test is the sole benchmark by which you are judged capable for work, or eligible as a partner via a dating site. Those all-important numbers if they are high enough guarantee you a career and social standing, fall below 3.2 and you’re marked down as a ‘sub’ and, if a baby, given a post-delivery termination. The really creepy thing is how entirely plausible this setup seems.
OK, someone’s clearly read Brave New World as a teenager, but as the blood-taker who becomes the go-to expert, Jade Anouka gives an exemplary performance, coping with the cool medical facts as well as a warm-blooded relationship with Rory Fleck Byrne’s finely-acted Adam – the suave Irish lawyer with a mop of well-greased brown hair you just want to run your fingers through… while conveniently forgetting to ask for his numbers.
Maybe you can see what’s coming, and in the first act it’s slower than waiting for your own test results, but with an especially dramatic moment the audience isn’t expecting in Act 2. There’s an actual gasp.
It’s an exceptional concept for a ‘first play’ and Hampstead has made a real discovery in Ella Road and partnered her script with Sam Yates’ slick direction. Although Road has stylistic qualities you could already compare to David Eldridge or Bryony Lavery, hers is an authentically individual voice.
The slowly-disintegrating set by Rosanna Vize and the lighting and video schematics are integral to the play – while some of the video vox-pop interviews are closer to Nish Kumar than to Newsnight, the effect is well delivered.