Review: ‘The Phlebotomist’ by Ella Road

Tom Chandler 19 January 2022
Image Credit: Corpus Playroom, Bernie Carter

Like all good dystopias, ‘The Phlebotomist’ centres personal relationships amidst societal strife. Juxtaposing the highs and lows of a typical relationship with news clips and advertisements, it depicts the world descending into hell. As a new way of rating blood begins deciding social standing, health conditions are rated lower and considered subhuman by society. 

What really sold the dystopia for me was the outstanding acting from Freya Beard, both in person and on-screen with Max Mason (who played a worryingly good Tory politician). Beard appears in many different roles, perfectly portraying the vast array of experiences under this new societal system; from the people with near perfect scores, to those who resort to looting just to obtain medical equipment. These advertisements were really key to the world building of the play, and were executed flawlessly by Beard and Mason. 

During the transitions between these broadcasts and the main plot of the play, there was often too much dead air; a trap which I feel a lot of Cambridge theatre falls into, where the actors are desperate to scurry off stage and there must be a 20-second blackout between each scene. On the whole, the lighting was really wonderful, with some great dramatic effects created in a space which is typically challenging to light. I just wish there had been the bravery to keep actors on stage during the transitions to improve the flow of the show. 

As the core relationship of the show, Bea (Eirlys Lovell-Jones) and Aaron (Thea Melton) delivered rich and powerful performances, both having their own outstanding moments. Both characters are morally challenging in their own way, and watching these seemingly normal people slip into worrying and discriminatory beliefs along with the rest of society was enthralling to watch. The actors brought such a great chemistry to the stage, which really sustained the sometimes awkwardly long scenes. Bea’s caring nature and Aaron’s suave romanticism were carried across incredibly well by the actors right to the play’s conclusion, and I found myself still empathising with both characters – even though I didn’t agree with them. 

Char (Charlotte McCarron), a high-profile, anti-rating activist, provides a perfect foil for Bea, who is so thoroughly entrenched in the rating system. Char also exemplifies the type of activist who so often seems to desire notoriety over actually achieving their cause. She becomes intensely attached to her falsified high-rating, believing it helps her to help other low-rate people, whilst she seems to take very little meaningful action. McCarron is simply perfect for the role – balancing the outwardly strong, and brave Char with the inner humanity and vulnerability of the character. She is, at once, both irritating and immensely sympathetic. 

Finally, Kitty Ford as David brought some much needed levity to the play. With his charming demeanour and incisive commentary on the world of the play, he thereby gives us warnings about our own. The character’s use of storytelling and metaphor was enthralling to watch and really brought a richness to the play. 

My main criticism of the play was I was often left feeling like I wanted to see more of the world outside of Bea, Aaron and Char – like there were more interesting things happening just around the corner, hinted at by the ensemble characters. As I said at the beginning of this review, having a core plot and narrative to explore is important, but I couldn’t help but feel that there were more interesting people in this world to explore, like the people who fought to legalise post-natal abortion, and won! Or those who killed people and drained their blood for transfusion purposes. However, this is more a reflection of the writing than this wonderful cast and crew. 

It’s incredibly rare to see dystopia on stage, and this cast really bring this terrifying world to life so vividly. My main takeaway was a concern for what our society’s obsession with perfect health could lead to, and what language and attitudes we need to be more aware of. 

3.5 Stars