From London to Baltimore, rioting often occurs as a consequence of the public making their voices heard. However, the aftermath often focuses on the damage done to property, rather than the damage done to people.
Borne from the reductive and simplistic analysis of the riots in Britain in 2011, Emteaz Hussain’s sophomore play, Blood (a co-production from Tamasha Theatre and Belgrade Theatre Coventry), is a riposte to such harmful discourse, by highlighting the nation’s youth – who are often vilified (more so if you’re a person of colour) – as fully-rounded people.
A tale about the sui generis feelings that come from the chimeric rush of first-time love, Blood’s protagonists are Caneze (Krupa Pattani) and Sully (Adam Samuel-Bal). A pair of college students, their early meet-cutes involve a shisha bar, and Nando’s – even though Caneze is a vegetarian.
In any such tale, blossoming romance has to have its obstacles. The main one in this story being Caneze’s and Sully’s respective families, especially Caneze’s older brother, Saif who is involved in unspecified criminal activity, which helps keep Caneze and their mother living in relative material comfort.
This gives the play something of a “Romeo and Juliet” feel. Caneze and Sully try to keep their burgeoning relationship secret; a bubble of bliss in which only they exist. It’s not a huge spoiler to say that bubble doesn’t go undisturbed, although I’ll avoid disclosing any more of the plot because… well, spoilers.
The play is told to us partly in flashback, with both Caneze and Sully describing events from their perspective, sometimes acting out the behaviour of family members, very much like the way one tells an anecdote to friends. Large swathes of the play are individual monologues, and Caneze and Sully periodically break conversing with each other to address the audience directly.
Hussain gives us a familiar tale, but written from a South Asian diasporic perspective, so stationed alongside the main narrative are additional threads, such as familial and societal expectations in areas such as marriage, religion, patriarchal attitudes towards women, and focusing on one’s education. This is most acutely felt by Caneze, who has a running motif in her head that she has to, “be more stronger, be more conscientious, get organised, sort it out, stay in control…”
This is one of a number of times (mainly in the first-half of the play) where the dialogue is less of a conversation, and more a stream of consciousness. The monologues work particularly well, having a lyrical quality to them. At times, it feels like watching spoken-word poetry.
The character of Sully is largely sincere, and a little guileless. His doe-eyed look at the world is balanced out by the more pragmatic Caneze. She has to act more like the grown-up in the early stages of their relationship, often getting irritated with Sully, due to his quixotic approach to life. At one point, Sully declares, “Love ain’t just something you say, just this word. It’s something you do.”
For most of the play, these characterisations give Samuel-Bal a greater chance to shine. And while Pattani may feel a bit two-dimensional, hamstrung by having to oscillate between (justified) anger and navel-gazing – with little nuance in between – one has to consider that she’s playing a teenager who has a raging series of emotions running through her head, but lacks the sufficient experience to articulate them. It’s a feeling that I imagine many people can relate to when they were at a similar age. Caneze gets an emotional breakthrough in the play’s denouement, allowing Pattani to show the full breadth of her acting talent.
The most heartening thing about the play isn’t just the subject(s) of the story, but also its authorship. Blood is a story that divests from the white gaze, (although that didn’t stop members of the largely white audience laughing when the characters affected South Asian accented-English) giving it a clarity of perspective. While it has a funny line about gentrification inevitably making its way to Pakistan, the focus is solely on a – but not the – South Asian teenage experience.
Esther Richardson does a fine job as director, and the proficient set design & lighting ensure that the production gets the most from rather limited resources and relatively low production values. When commenting on the vastness of Britain, Sully opines that “There’s room for everyone.” I suspect this line was intended as a comment on the need for greater diversity in all aspects of British society.
My only bugbear with the play is while the aforementioned monologues had a smooth, legato cadence, some of the dialogue between Caneze and Sully felt pretty perfunctory, like an episode of Eastenders, when a character often speaks only to advance the plot.
In a rum way, giving the story a clearly defined point-of-view might make it more accessible to people from backgrounds that don’t correlate with the writer’s, as at its core, the play is a coming of age tale, where one’s love and one’s ostensible obligations aren’t always incompatible. The motif of the story is, “Blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.”
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“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. “Pop culture to sport, and back again“
A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).
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