DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Blood Harmony – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Matthew Bulgo

Directors/Choreographers: Jonnie Riordan and Jess Williams

Three sisters have gone their different ways from the family home, still linked together to an extent by their mother. Anna, the eldest, is married and is a highly successful executive in the States; Maia is a free spirit, no stranger to illegal substances, working her way from relationship to relationship and job to job; Chloe, the youngest, is the one who stayed at home, looking after an increasingly dependent mother.

Then mother dies, the absent sisters return and the attic is the place where they examine the past, their memories and their relationship with each other. So far, so conventional – and the details of how it all fits together somehow don’t fit. For instance, the piano has arrived in the attic somehow (Chloe, who has been there all the time, says, “I actually have no idea [how]”). This is testimony to mother’s mysterious capacity to do miraculous things, but for years she has been incapacitated and surely Chloe would have noticed its disappearance from the living room. Matthew Bulgo seems to have forgotten what a hefty piece of work a piano is, especially for an old lady the wrong side of a couple of strokes.

But there is more to Blood Harmony than that. Though Bulgo is credited as “writer”, the main credit for ThickSkin states, “created by Matthew Bulgo, Jonnie Riordan and Jess Williams” – and clearly the directors and choreographers have had an unusually large part in the concept of the evening. Most particularly, the songbook of the Staves has been raided for some appropriate songs, splendidly performed by Eve de Leon Allen, Keshini Misha and Philippa Hogg, Kate Marlais’ arrangements conjuring up powerful harmonies, while the singers explore Hayley Grindle’s set by leaping around the framework attic roof.

The whole thing looks good – to the extent that you tend to forget the illogicality of the script. Charly Dunford’s lighting is a bit inclined to leave everyone in the dark but produces some arresting effects and the three actor/musicians are all admirable. De Leon Allen as Chloe, frequently the calm centre between the squabblings of her siblings, is powerful in a moving account of the day of mother’s death. Misha has a deal of ground to cover as Maia, from wise-cracking cynicism to despair, and does so very well. It’s strange that the one thing that seems certain about her is her deep-rooted dislike of Anna, yet at the end the two are suddenly getting on like… well, sisters. Hogg conveys the irritation factor of Anna perfectly, from buying them all a copy of a book, On Grief and Grieving, at the airport to her adoption of corporate speak to her inability to understand Chloe’s situation. The cosy ending, all three together in sisterhood, does not really convince.

Runs until 2nd July 2022, before touring to Edinburgh

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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