The Phlebotomist at Hampstead Theatre
Hampstead Downstairs cherry-picks works by exciting early-career writers and gives them a stage. It is a small strip of performance space, but in the case of Ella Road’s The Phlebotomist, it bursts with quality. Set in a dystopian future where whole lives are made and destroyed by genes, the new production queries notions of personhood and determinism. It is a play packed with ideas and messages, yes, but above all, it is a polished, pithy, and poignant piece of theatre at its very best.
The dystopia of the drama, like all (perhaps paradoxically) good dystopias, unfolds through the characters’ relationships. There is rarely a note struck off-key here, with consummate acting from all four of the cast members. Jade Anouka as Bea and Rory Fleck Byrne as Aaron deserve special mention for their sheer presence on stage – their characters live in strange times but it is their capturing of a blissful normalcy that allows the play to soar. Director Sam Yates has not only managed the feat of eliciting these well-rounded performances, but of making room economically for beautiful theatrical images and allowing the set to expand and contract between the private and public.
Audiences will find it hard to believe, perhaps, that this is the dramatist’s debut work. Its artistic voice is piercingly clear. The script is touching – funny, even – but it carries the great weight of a rare gift behind it: excellent writing. This is a play that tackles agency, love, death and privilege with deft pen strokes, but it is – more than anything – simply fantastic theatre. In an interview, Road self-effacingly says that she has “only recently started” calling herself a playwright. With the unquestionable success of The Phlebotomist, it is a badge she can now wear with pride.
Photo: Marc Brenner
The Phlebotomist is at Hampstead Theatre from 12th April until 19th May 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.