BWW Review: THE PHLEBOTOMIST, Hampstead Theatre
When Bea (Jade Anouka) and Aaron (Rory Fleck Byrne) meet, they both think they've found happiness. He's intelligent, handsome, and with a high rating; she's a phlebotomist in a centre dedicated to blood testing. In the meantime, Char's (Cherrelle Skeete) existence is on the line because of the test, so she turns to her close friend Bea for help. In a world where your genetic profile determines and threatens your quality of life, employability, and rights, human relationships turn into a simple game of numbers.
Ella Road's debut play premieres at Hampstead Theatre in an inclusive and enlightening production directed by Sam Yates. By painting a direct allegory with the modern world, Road draws the attention on the alienation and fragmentation of society. Bea's character development is moulded harshly by the structure she inhabits: her bumbling youth at the start turns into confidence and self-assurance by the end, but this comes with the core elitism and "rateism" of being privileged.
The couple have a beautiful house, they can afford to splurge on hyper-expensive fruit, and, since they both have high rates, they have the luxury of procreating, while watching their friend Char slowly deteriorating and living a life of reckless activism. The Phlebotomist underlines the root issues of a future society based on technology and coldly scientific progress.
Yates's thin traverse stage gives the audience an intrusive, almost voyeuristic point of view. Designed by Rosanna Vize, the set is bare and white. Icy and anonymous, it ties the characters into a cold system of technological momentum. They use TV screens to portray an outside world made of crude measures against people whose rating is below a certain figure, commercials of dating sites based on rating, and medical information associated with genetic profiling.
The company is devastating. Subtle and heartbreaking, they portray human nature as fractured by knowledge and torn by science and philosophy. Anouka and Skeete's chemistry make their performances burst out in their touching depiction of the evolution of friendship.
Fleck-Byrne is resilient in the role, bouncing back and forth with Anouka, with whom he shares a deep and solid understanding. They're flanked by Vincent Ebrahim as David, a wise and perceptive janitor/doorkeeper who becomes a key element with his profound performance.
It's an outstanding premiere for Road, who establishes herself as a skilled and sophisticated writer. She questions the politics of knowledge and the inherent rights of life with a clever and meticulous script, opening the conversation and ultimately letting the audience draw their own conclusions.