War, mortality and familial displacement – The Other Room’s debut season dealt with powerful issues in powerful fashion. Not only do otherMother tackle all three in Blud, they chuck classism in too.
Kelly Jones’ fictional world is burdened by poverty and helplessness, and Rita is its poster-child. Like the Twix bars she adores, her tough centre gives structure to a life of football hooliganism and gang warfare. It’s a character built on fear and intimidation, something Francesca Marie Claire embraces with a fierce, physical, exceptional performance.
The victim of Rita’s predatory behaviour – other than the Premiership footballer she’s held captive – is her sister Lou. Wise beyond her fifteen years Lou is the closest Blud has to a voice of reason, but this too is clouded. Is she a young girl desperate for her family, or simply taking advantage of a bad situation? Olivia Elsden’s wonderfully layered performance brings both emotional core and humour to proceedings, with an ability to express herself with her whole body that is a joy to watch.
The sisters’ relationship is excellently written, something director Anna Poole exploits to expert effect. While much of the play relies on their conflict, it’s at its best when the two girls are momentarily on the same side. A sequence where the two sisters turn their abandoned locker room hideout into a quasi-terrorist video shoot demonstrates Poole’s success in managing Marie Claire and Elsden’s obvious chemistry. And it’s hilarious.
At times, though, there is a lack of logic. The immediate response to the ‘terrorist video’ feels too far-fetched, and it’s also never explained how Rita is able to kidnap a high-profile Premiership player. In a play where questions are deliberately left unanswered by the author, these ones feel more ignored. But that aside, this really is a wonderful script. Jones shows great versatility, a positive sign for her future projects.
Like The Other Room did all those months ago, otherMother have exploded onto the scene in style. Blud is an excellent piece of new writing – assured direction, perfect casting and a powerful script make this one theatregoers make a point to see.