Grain In The Blood

Rob Drummond
Traverse Theatre Company & Tron Theatre Company
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Blythe Duff as Sophia
Frances Thorburn as Violet, Sarah Miele as Autumn, Andrew Rothney as Isaac, John Michie as Burt, and Blythe Duff as Sophia
Andrew Rothney as Isaac

Grain In The Blood is a thriller, a genre more associated with the cinema, and the production owes plenty to that medium, with its fully-functioning set and naturalistic style.

The plot hinges on a moral dilemma straight out of a philosophy text book: a girl is dying and the only person who can save her is her father who is on release from prison.

At first glance it seems contrived, but it is held together by the intensity of the actors as well as a punchy script and sharp direction. No moment is wasted, indeed its quite amazing how much is packed into less than ninety minutes.

Autumn (Sarah Miele) is in dire need of a kidney transplant; she has never met her father Isaac (Andrew Rothney). Sophia (Blythe Duff), her grandmother, has been permitted to have him stay with his minder Burt (John Michie).

The reason for his visit is immediately clear: to agree to donate. It is not a simple task; Sophia needs to keep Autumn's Aunt Violet (Frances Thorburn), who can't stand Isaac, from scuppering the agreement.

The play builds and builds up to its impressive climax. The characters are all so well drawn and all have some kind of darker side, from Burt's alcoholism to Autumn's foul mouth.

Rob Drummond's script is not without humour—there are some great one-liners. Michie's dry delivery makes Burt a surprisingly likable private minder.

The core of the play though is the three generations of women: pragmatic Sophia, vengeful Violet and Autumn off in her own world of pagan goddesses.

Although it is a Scottish play—it even reunites two of the James Plays cast—Drummond has created a very vague setting; there is very little that binds the action to a place or even a time. Even Autumn's talk of the Grain Mother could be recognised in many cultures.

Though most of the action takes place in the one room, it isn't totally naturalistic; sliding panels allow a few scenes elsewhere. These scenes framed with the wooden panelling are mostly of Autumn speaking of her folklore, giving them both a slightly cinematic quality, but also an eerieness.

Also, Miele does a superb job of playing a young girl, something the actor already had a stab at in Thon Man Molière, but Drummond gives her a lot more to get her teeth into here. Her delivery of the swear words has that childishness to it that makes you cringe, as you should.

What starts as quite a jokey play with Burt cleaning shit off his shoe ends up in one of the tensest scenes I've witnessed on stage—a big collective inhale was virtually audible from the audience.

A classic production that was well received in Glasgow and deserves to keep on touring.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin