GRAIN IN THE BLOOD
TRON THEATRE, GLASGOW
Review by Mark Brown
Rob Drummond, creator of experimental theatre works such as Mr Write and Bullet Catch, and author of the currently touring stage adaptation of much-loved comic strip The Broons, is one of Scotland’s most mercurial and varied dramatists. His latest piece, Grain in the Blood, a co-production by the Tron, Glasgow and the Traverse, Edinburgh, is arguably his most thematically ambitious play.
The drama is set in the remote, rural cottage of veterinary surgeon Sophia, farmer Violet and Sophia’s desperately ill, young granddaughter Autumn. Theirs is a curious world in which the rhymes and rituals of an ancient pagan religion persist, complete with bleak obsessions combining fertility and death.
Drummond collides this strange, miniature society with the very recognisable, contemporary realities of short-term, compassionate prisoner release and transplant surgery. Sophia hopes that her son Isaac, a maximum security prisoner, who has arrived at the cottage for a few days with his chaperone Burt, will attempt to save Autumn’s life by donating a kidney.
It is a scenario that positively buzzes with tension. Not only because Isaac holds Autumn’s life in his hands, but also because of the deep and various impacts of his crime upon the inhabitants of his former home.
The greatest dramatic possibilities of the play lie in the sinister weirdness of the verses that the four rural characters know by heart. They offer a magical realist dimension that promises to lift the piece above mere theatrical naturalism.
Frustratingly, however, Drummond seems to lack the courage of his convictions. Running to a mere 90 minutes, the piece stints on its revelations of the ancient faith, leaving us unconvinced of its power to motivate.
Equally disappointing is the drama’s regular descent into predictability and melodrama. Violet’s flirtation with the stoical Burt, for instance, makes Mae West look subtle, while the regular brandishing of weapons makes one wonder if Drummond wishes he was writing for Martin Scorsese.
Director Orla O’Loughlin makes somewhat heavy work of such a short play. The piece’s sense of creakiness is exacerbated by Fred Meller’s maximalist set, complete with a clunking, wooden-doored stage-within-a-stage.
All of which is a great pity, as the production is blessed with a fine cast; not least John Michie’s torn outsider Burt and Blythe Duff’s morally certain Sophia.
At Tron Theatre, Glasgow until October 29; then at Traverse, Edinburgh. November 1-12. For more information, visit: http://www.tron.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on October 24, 2016
© Mark Brown