BWW Review: THE PHLEBOTOMIST, Hampstead Theatre
When Bea meets Aaron, she thinks she's found the one. He's handsome, smart, has a good job and, most importantly, his genetic profile is spotless. While she's slowly but surely climbing her way to the top, her best friend Char is given a death sentence that will inevitably change her life.
In a world where what counts is a person's genetic rating and everyone's lives depend on a single blood test, how far will people go to defend what they have and to get what they want?
After a first run Downstairs at Hampstead Theatre last year, Ella Road's The Phlebotomist transfers to their Main Stage. Nominated for this year's Olivier Awards as Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre, Sam Yates' production holds its own on the larger stage.
The director plays with a new sleek set design and his already established stage-couple - formed by Jade Anouka and Rory Flack Byrne, who reprise the parts of Bea and Aaron - to present an enhanced version of Road's debut play. Joining the pair, Kiza Deen is Char and Mark Lambert takes on the role of David, the wise porter who works at the same clinic as Bea.
Rosanna Vize reshapes her previous traverse into an upgraded proscenium: she keeps the antiseptic and high-tech vibe and turns it up to the max in the translation to the bigger space, with projections (by Louise Rhoades-Brown) towering over the characters and intruding ruthlessly into their lives. Yates and Vize gradually start to disassemble the walls, dismantling the panels that enclose the actors and leaving gaping holes that reveal the skeleton of the theatre with its frigid and mechanical nature.
The set's falling apart brings a different dimension to the perception of the audience, visually amplifying the artificial and cold-blooded gears of the story portrayed on stage. This gimmick is paired with the presence of a crew who carries out the scene changes in an intentionally unsubtle manner. Just like Road does with her text, Yates builds the picture up and tears it down to show what lies behind the perfect world they've created - which is being deliberately destroyed by the system they exist in.
Anouka and Fleck Byrne are, at this point, a well-oiled machine. Anouka's development is directly proportional to Deen's downfall: their characters work on different hyperboles, Bea gets swallowed up by the policts of the dystopia Char is trying to take down while Aaron sits in the middle in a puddle of deception. Lambert's David somewhat leaves a weaker mark than his predecessor but his performance stops the piece in its tracks nonetheless as he reminds Bea of what's important.
The production signifies the remarkable return of a story that introduces controversial matters and paints an allegoric image that draws a chilling comparison to today's world. News reports, talk-shows, ads, and dating profiles consume the space and act as a continuous reminder of the encroachment of the media on private lives. Yates and Road don't single out what's wrong from what's right but leave their audience free to gather their own conclusions to complete a worrisome reflection.