Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bloodlines - has the male regulation of women really changed between 1911 and 2017? (Lyric Theatre) #belfest

Vittoria Cafolla’s new play Bloodlines cleverly twists together two situations a century apart that question the male regulation over women’s fertility, sexuality and powers of decision-making, and asks how much Northern Ireland has really changed?

Back in 1911 the Belfast Eugenics Society really were debating whether the city could breeding itself away from the growing “feeble minded and subnormal” working classes. On stage, Dr James Lindsay (played by Michael Condron) introduces the latest paper by Charles Darwin’s son Leonard. But this runaway thinking and its oppressive conclusions about controlling the population are challenged by Margaret Boyle (Mary Lindsay) who works with the city’s poor and is becoming involved with the Suffragette movement. Dan Gordon plays the snobby Bishop Charles Frederick D’Arcy who presides over the Society and supports the segregation and institutionalisation of those deemed “mentally deficient”.

Meanwhile in modern-day Tyrone, a vegetarian butcher Annie Baxter (Mary Lindsay) seeks an injection of high quality sperm into her ovaries. But after a failed relationship with a disappointing DUP councillor (Michael Condron) from another tradition, she’s picky about who might father her child, even remotely by IVF. Sister Phil (Nicky Harley) is a genetics student whose own lesbian love life is caught up in the claustrophobic village and isn’t sure whether she can stick staying under the local spotlight.

The modern day scenes are lighter in tone and support more humour than the historically rich pre-war passages. Condron captures well the political and pseudo-religious conservatism which Cafolla has written, plunging the character into a spin that lashes out and abuses those who would have maybe stopped to give him a second chance.

Decisions being proposed for a young destitute mother (played by Adele Gribbon) push Margaret over the edge and trigger the exploration of how the wider vision of the suffragette movement has never been fully delivered.

As the scenes ping pong between the two timelines, Mary Lindsay impresses as she switches from the violent delivery in a regional accent to the calm more posh tones of the unmarried well-to-do city professional.

While the format of a read-through (combined with good breathing technique) easily permits rapid transitions, keeping up the energetic scene changes could be an opportunity for very inventive costumes and set design. Director Emma Jordan allowed some simple props to add  life to the relatively static read-through and wisely avoided the use of canned sound effects.

The dynamic between the two protagonists in each of the two eras and the elements of symmetry between them were well observed and well performed. There’s a depth to the writing which even includes a great quote from the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, citing Tin Woodman’s conclusion that “once I had brains, and a heart also; so, having tried them both, I should much rather have a heart”.

Bloodlines by Vittoria Cafolla was one of the four scripts chosen from the seventy or more submitted to the New Playwrights Programme. Watching this play was a very rewarding way of spending this afternoon and a bit of a treat to round off three and a half weeks of dipping into the Belfast International Arts Festival.

The next version of this play will hopefully return to a local stage with a full production. It wouldn’t be out of place as part of the programme in the NI Human Rights Festival or the Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics.

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