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Powerful, Playful, Pertinent: Reviewing ‘Blood On Your Hands’ at Southwark Playhouse

I went in entirely blind to see Blood On Your Hands. I had done no research in advance of the evening, so I scarcely had any idea what to expect before I picked up the programme just 15 minutes prior to the show’s start. Having had no real expectations, little did I expect to board an emotional rollercoaster. Blood On Your Hands evoked in me both eager anticipation and sheer terror. I certainly got more than I had bargained for. Writer Grace Joy Howarth masterfully integrated a number of pertinent issues, without detracting from the narrative propelled onwards by the professionalism of the actors.

Cast of 'Blood on Your Hands' from its run at The Cockpit Theatre. Photo by Louis Cao.

I acquired a keen sense of the characters almost immediately. From the very first scene, characters adopted a unique physicality, making known their presence on the stage both in an assertive and yet dignified manner. From the very first piece of dialogue in the opening scene, protagonists Dan (Phillip John Jones) and Kostyantyn (Shannon Smith) displayed keen authenticity in their roles as slaughterhouse workers. Their distinct, and initially somewhat incompatible, characters were at once believable, their motivations and internal conflicts made abundantly clear. Dan and Kostyantyn and, by extension, the remainder of the small cast were well-developed characters, with clear backgrounds informing their present conditions. This was implicit in the natural dialogue as well as manifest in the effective use of flashbacks, thereby enhancing the audience’s understanding of past experiences and their bearing on the present time.

 

Actors were consistent in their characterisation; some of whom simultaneously demonstrated multi-roling, seamlessly transitioning from one character to the next with effective vocal and bodily modifications. The character dynamics were reminiscent of those relationships in that of my own life. The characters emanated a compelling relatability, in spite of life experiences that a vast majority of audience members perhaps would have failed to empathise with.

 

The narrative achieved a paradox in which the audience remained all at once far removed from the emotional action and yet entirely emotionally invested. I was completely captivated by the imminent sense of despair. Whilst the tone of the play was fundamentally dark with a keen sense of foreboding driving the narrative, this was counterbalanced where appropriate with humour. Blood On Your Hands had me both tearful at times and laughing out loud. It is not every day that a play can do both. 

 

There was a real sense of collaboration and undeniable evidence of strong team work among the cast members. It was really beautiful to witness.



 Blood On Your Hands explored, in large, issues of animal rights and class discrepancy in the workplace, the consequences of both being a natural deterioration of one’s mental well-being (including references to addiction and suicide). The recurring motif of relationships was compelling, a profoundly moving narrative of two unlikely friends. Such themes are enhanced through an expert use of symbolism, communicating ideas in subtle and insidious ways.

 

The minimalistic set was deliberate, so as not to detract from the action characterised in large by profound emotion. In spite of a sheer lack of props and a small-scale set, the actors made use of the space to the best of their ability, carrying themselves around the stage in numerous and unique ways. The use of split-staging particularly stood out to me, as the two narratives coinciding were emotionally overwhelming and utterly gripping.

 

I fear if I write much more, I will spoil the show. It is brilliantly crafted, achieving an overall balance between relevant contemporary and historical issues and what is ultimately fictional story-telling. Powerful, playful and pertinent, Blood On Your Hands is a must see.



 

Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.

 

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