Traverse’s newest production is a joint venture with the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Grain in the Blood is directed by Orla O’Loughlin whose direction of Milk, performed during Fringe, had left me eager to see what her next artistic venture would be. Handling the new script by Rob Drummond, O’Loughlin easily gets the most out of the noir thriller, producing a well-rounded production which has a lot to like.
The script, I found, was very interesting. It was one of those few scripts that managed to take the story in a totally different way at the last minute. Drummond starts by establishing a superstitious family, seemingly practising some kind of ritualistic sacrifices yearly living in an isolated community. They are visited by Burt Mantle (John Michie) who is there to evaluate their family and their situation in regards to approving a compassionate home visit by a convicted offender: Sophia’s (Blythe Duff) son. The first few scenes are clearly written to evoke a creepy atmosphere, with a looming sense of impending violence and horror. It was reminiscent of the Wickerman with its removed village and slightly odd characters whose determination to skirt round addressing topics could not help but conjure feelings of uncertainty and suspicion. Enter Autumn (Sarah Miele), the 12 year old daughter of the criminal Isaac (Andrew Rothney). Clearly suffering from an illness, later identified as kidney failure, there is a clear shift in the play from the relationship of witty blunt one liners between Bert and Sophia to center around Autumn. She is the reason we are here, the reason the play is amplifying the chills and thrills, there is something about this child that is going to set all the other characters off.
After Isaac enters the story the play started to take a turn towards the slightly more ludicrous. There is still an element of suspense continued but characters begin to slip, their anger being slightly misjudged or reduced, with Sophia being too composed for having seen her son for the first time in ten years or so, and Violet (Frances Thorburn) being too measured when it is her most affected by Isaac’s presence and the crime he committed. Although it is revealed that their composure was all for an end game it lost its thriller edge and became a little American Horror Story. If it had continued in the vein of mysterious rituals and Wickerman feel, it would have created a smoother piece. Instead it felt a little like Drummond was trying to be too clever and prove the ridiculousness of these ‘verses’ and myths by providing a different ending that could have come across as terrifying in a modern sense but instead was too rushed and comedic to really work. The audience was left confused by the ending that had progressed quickly and honestly degenerated into a bit of a mess with a spoofy ending of righteous actions.
A strong cast, Miele and Michie were the most magnetic by far. They seemed most comfortable with their characters, and although on stage all five worked well together, the other three actors struggled to bring their characters to life, possibly through the script rather than direction. Miele brought Autumn to life with a maturity that was refreshing and proved how much promise Miele has if she continues to pursue acting. The production values of the show were of an extremely high quality. The set was functional and set changes were seamless and easy. The lighting shone in this production, designed by Simon Wilkinson, the LED strip of lights at the back really helped to evoke different atmospheres and the jagged rip in the back wall oozed haze at perfect times.
Overall, it was an enjoyable performance, ninety minutes of talented acting well directed. The script felt a little lost and underdeveloped towards the end with a sharp contrast between the atmosphere at the beginning and ending of the show. Although both provided thrills of their own the way they were achieved were by very different means.