That Blood is being sold as a modern day Romeo and Juliet makes sense. At its core is a story that is often depicted as the universal adolescent love experience: Heartbreaks follow boys sneaking into girls’ rooms through windows, and characters struggle to achieve that all-important balance between revision and relationships. Certainly sounds familiar, right? Even if it doesn’t resemble your own experiences at all.
Fortunately, Blood is very refreshing in other ways. It’s rare to see characters of non-white ethnicities portrayed realistically and honestly on stage, and though this may not be Blood’s main mission, it is one of the play’s features that should be recognised and praised. At first, the ethnicity of Caneez (Krupa Pattani) and Sully (Adam Samuel Bal) isn’t even important. They’re just teenagers, acting like teenagers, who just happen to be from a ‘different’ ethnicity.
So part of the reason Blood works so well is because it is not just another ‘normal,’ whitewashed story of love and teenage angst. Nor is it an overly exoticised depiction of people from different backgrounds. But as the play develops, we stop being able to be colour blind to their situation. Their Pakistani origins, their families, and their community ultimately threaten and divide them. And thankfully this is more than just an artfully and dramatically placed obstacle. The problem is something far more deep rooted in their lives.
Writer Emteaz Hussain’s look at these problems was first driven by a need to produce a counterpoint to the ‘the myopic portrayal of working-class young people’. And credit has to be given for her studied use of language in this portrayal alone. In fact it’s pretty brave for a writer to try to reproduce slang. Often doing so will come across as dreadfully inauthentic, but in Blood it never does. Instead it lends a charm to the characters (especially to Sully, who somehow manages to make his bad boy, rapper demeanour endearing). It proves too that characters don’t need to speak in Standard English for their feelings to be expressed and understood.
Moreover, the actors’ abilities to flit between these sociolects and the play’s many shifts between the comedic and the horrific is frighteningly flawless. Bal mimicking his matchmaking aunty (with stereotypical Indian accent included, of course), sits chilling close to a scene where Pattani emulates her fiancé (and rapist). And Pattani excels in playing the perpetrator’s part too, repeatedly changing her stance, style of speaking and facial expressions. Her act as Caneez is actually so good, it can even seem to prevent us from seeing the victim silencing her character seemingly experiences.
Except if I were to lay out the twists and turns these youths experience – in a play which is full of (excellently choreographed) beatings, rape and scenes of self-harm – it would perhaps seem overly melodramatic. Still, Hussain and the actors have done an excellent job in ensuring that balance between comedy, romance and impending tragedy is perfectly weighed. The romantic scenes are also truly touching and tender (sure to bring memories of your first love surging into your mind), and the chemistry between Bal and Pattani (especially during the first half) has a genuinely endearing, comedic joyfulness about it.
So finally the sorts of young people who were so villanised after the riots have a theatrical vehicle that tells their stories, and in their own language too. They’ll be invisible no more, and instead of only being on Paranormal or a Crimewatch special (which often ends up presenting a very particular narrative of the oppressed and victimised Asian girl) they’ll tell these stories on their own terms. Indeed, the world of Blood is a reality for many people in our communities, and it’s vital that their stories are told by artists who can truly empathise and have the skill to communicate those realities to others. This is why all local theatre enthusiasts and the theatrically curious should get behind Blood when it comes to the Nottingham Playhouse on Thursday 23rd April to Saturday 25th April.