Blood Runs Deep: A Review
Writers David Paul and Emma Culshaw described Blood Runs Deep as “a chilling, psychological thriller” and chilling was perhaps a downplay of the tense, and at times disturbing, family drama that ran from October 10th-October 13th at the local Unity Theatre in Liverpool. Anyone who has attended a production at the Unity (One) Theatre will recall its floor-level stage and its rather small capacity of 150 seats, and this layout really worked in the favour of director Margaret Connell, with the intimacy of the venue inviting each audience member into the living room of the Richards family which is the static scene of the entire play. As you may expect from a production centred around the notion of lies, family ties and serial killers, at times the action on stage was so shocking that several members of the audience around me appeared squeamish and almost uncomfortable.
Blood Runs Deep was set in the backdrop of the 1990s, which the production team never allowed you to forget as each scene transition took place to one of many iconic 90s tracks, such as James’ Laid or Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. The opening scene was a whimsical one to begin with, with characters Jake (Brandon McCaffery) and Zoe (Alice Merivale) performing the acute depiction of a teenage couple, joking around and revelling in being alone together, and the moment was one of the few hints of humour in the play, with no indication yet of what would later unfold. However, the pair’s apparent fascination with serial killers and the motivation that drives a human to commit a horrific crime, created an air of discomfort which set a precedent for the unstable and twisted relationship that would develop between the two further into the action of the play. It soon became clear to the audience that Jake’s mother, Karen (Emma Vaudrey), had been on the run constantly throughout the life of her son, attempting to stay hidden and keep Jake shielded from the damning revelation of the identity of his absent father. This revelation, when it came, would shock Jake to his core- and the audience- acting as a catalyst for the violence and terror that ensues.
The narrative of this psychological thriller poses two questions, to which we never get a definitive answer. One being, should some secrets stay that way? Karen would argue that her secret deserved to remain hidden to avoid the catastrophe that results from its unearthing. As the audience we may alternatively assume that the consequences would have been fewer, if Karen had been honest with Jake from an early age and the family could have lived a stable life without the constant fear of being found. The second question that the writers of Blood Runs Deep pose to us is, do genetics act as a factor in the creating of our character and the decisions that we make? This is the interesting aspect of the play that grants it its title. We are invited to wonder how deeply blood actually runs. The play thus provokes the discussion of the extent of free will compared to the influence of our genetic makeup. How influenced would we be by our biological father being, perhaps, a notorious serial killer?
Margaret Connell does not shy away from bringing to life the confrontation and violence that is created by the horror of David Paul and Emma Culshaw’s narrative. Together they display the darker aspects of humanity in their full, honest depiction which, whilst at times shocking, really results in a truly gripping performance. The small cast of four delivered equally stunning moments throughout, managing to evoke both empathy and fear in the audience. Emma Vaudrey’s Karen was heart-breaking at times: the perfectly tragic image of a single mother driven to alcohol by the memories of her difficult past and the dread of potentially losing her son. Jake was perhaps the most diverse, challenging character, but performed with ease by Brandon McCaffery, who captured the struggle of questioning your own identity and the anxiety that you may let yourself down. Alongside him, Alice Merivale’s characterising of the unhinged Zoe would have you wanting to protect her one moment and then run from her the next. For me, easily the most memorable performance was that of Greg portrayed by John Schumacher. The intensity of each line he delivered left me feeling chilled yet still debating whether to trust his poor, damaged character. The delivery of his performance, both in scenes of confrontation and moments of gentile conversation, was brilliant and left my pulse racing out of fear for those around him and complicating my own doubts about his intentions.
Blood Runs Deep was intense in every possible way and at times left me horrified and shifting uncomfortably in my seat, yet this was the beauty of the narrative and the acting. It was thought provoking, emotive and a credit to all the cast and crew who clearly worked tirelessly on this thrilling production.