Pagan rituals impact on the modern world in this tense drama from writer and Traverse Associate Artist Rob Drummond.
Leaden cello sounds from Michael John McCarthy signal the dark tale that is about to unfold in a remote farmhouse kitchen. Sophia (Blythe Duff) is a semi-retired vet who shares the farmhouse with her desperately ill granddaughter Autumn (Sarah Miele) and Violet (Frances Thorburn), Autumn’s aunt.
Sophia is awaiting the arrival of her son Isaac (Andrew Rothney) who been in prison for a crime he committed as a teenager. A formal exchange across her kitchen table is taking place between her and Burt Mantle (John Michie), the man who will be Isaac’s chaperone for his compassionate leave.
During his stay that is to coincide with Autumn’s birthday, Sophia faces Isaac with a serious dilemma but like in any good thriller, that’s not the end of the road. A series of threats and counter threats step out and over each other posing moral quandaries before the play’s startling conclusion.
On the face of it Grain in the Blood is a departure from Drummond’s usual style of direct if benign challenging interaction with his audience but in reality his curious mind is still working overtime and setting these challenges in a less direct form through the play’s narrative.
Each of his characters are confronted by situations that require weighing up what depths could be plumbed to set whatever their personal book of accounts needs to be balanced. Despite its turn on a sixpence tension, Drummond’s wit manages to sneak through and be delivered with expert dryness by both Duff and Michie.
Fred Meller’s neat set, inhabited with such order by the five characters thanks to precision direction from Orla O’Loughlin, belies the dark reality of this family’s rural life where low hills loom in background laden with ancient knowledge. The kitchen’s compact barn style doors slide to reveal Autumn’s sick bed where Sarah Miele delivers much of Autumn’s third person lyrical narration.
Simon Wilkinson’s lighting in the form of a sinister 40-watt hue that shifts beatifically to Caravaggio-like tableaux is simply superb.
Making a bargain with the devil is one thing but it’s the bargains we make with ourselves to justify our own set of morals that this play exposes under the light of a harvest moon.
Runs Tuesday, 1 November to Saturday, 12 November