In the Blood

Suzan-Lori Parks
Finborough Theatre
(2010)

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This is one of two plays that American writer Suzan-Lori Parks has created as modern reinterpretations of The Scarlet Letter.

Nathaniel Hawthorne might, at times, struggle to recognise his work in this contemporary (1999) morality tale related in hip street lingo. That is only because these days, hypocrisy takes different forms. The results, though, are very much the same.

The modern Hester might live in New York but suffers similar problems to her metaphorical great-great grandmother and is equally obsessed with the letter "A".

Natasha Bain gives a really brave performance as illiterate Hester, a good mother bringing up her five children under the shelter of a bridge.

Each of the children has a different father and, despite the efforts of the welfare lady, their mother will not shop the guilty parties. Consequently, she receives minimal financial support from anybody. Despite money problems and constant hunger, she tries her best to bring up the children to know right from wrong.

That is remarkable, since everyone that Hester meets tries to take advantage. This is also the play's weakness, since the story becomes repetitive.

While Hester's prostitute friend might be expected to use the unfortunate as a meal ticket and sexual aid, it becomes a bit much when her female social worker, friendly doctor, local preacher and first love all do likewise to varying degrees.

Even so, In the Blood is a powerful attack on a society that does far too little to alleviate poverty and will by default allow economic policy to force the Black underclass into a downward spiral from which there can be no escape.

The five actors joining Miss Bain each double as one of the children and one of the hypocrites, presenting dual opportunities to showcase talent. Eleanor Fanyinka as the sleazy, Amiga Gringa and Richard Pepple playing the Doctor are perhaps the pick.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher