Grain in the Blood

For at least some of its audience, it’s enough that Grain in the Blood reunites actors Blythe Duff and John Michie—long-time compatriots on STV’s Taggart. For the rest of us, this generally taut 90 minute tale by playwright Rob Drummond—previously responsible for experimental audience-participation works such as Fidelity and Bullet Catch, as well as the currently touring stage adaptation of iconic D C Thomson’s The Broons—is an engrossing drama successfully combining the deadpan humour of film noir with a whiff of rural folk mythology.

strong performances from an excellently choreographed ensemble

Drummond certainly starts as he means to go on, the lights rising on Burt Mantle (Michie) scraping dung of his shoe: “That’s the problem with living out here,” says Sophia (Duff). “Shit everywhere.” It’s not just the obvious faeces, however; there’s plenty of emotional “shit” lurking under this failing livestock farm’s roof. Thankfully, Drummond isn’t shy of shading the serious issues with numerous grimly amusing one-liners, invariably delivered with deadpan faces by Duff and Michie—two performers totally relaxed and trusting in each other’s company.

Veterinary Sophia lives on the farm with her 12 year old granddaughter Autumn and farmer “Aunt” Violet. The former is seriously ill with kidney failure; with her body having already rejected two previous transplants, Autumn’s only hope is that the father she’s never met—Sophie’s son Isaac—is willing to donate one of his own kidneys. Isaac, however, has been in prison for all Autumn’s life; when he does arrive at the farm on compassionate leave—albeit under Burt’s constant supervision—it’s really her last chance.

Drummond dramatises the ethical problems well, not just in terms of the characters but also the wider culture in which they exist. Orla O’Loughlin’s direction is tight, ably supported by Simon Wilkinson’s emotive shadow-friendly lighting, a hauntingly distorted orchestral score and sound design from Michael John McCarthy and the contrast with Fred Meller’s solid but unadorned set.

Duffy and Michie are the anchors of Grain in the Blood, full of subtle tiredness and determination; if Frances Thorburn (Violet) and Andrew Rothney (Isaac) have less emotional room in which to manoeuvre, they nevertheless feel real and convincing. However, it’s Sarah Miele (last seen in Edinburgh in Thon Man Moliere at the Royal Lyceum) who really lingers in the memory. Autumn is a mature-beyond-her-years child; one who swears like a trouper, knows when she’s being led up the garden path, and yet is still innocent enough to ignore the potential risks in a game of Truth or Dare.

Grain in the Blood does, sadly, have one significant failing; a rushed conclusion which, while every element had been dutifully flagged up earlier on, nevertheless feels like an unearned authorial imposition—reliant too much on straight-to-audience tell-not-show. Nevertheless, strong performances from an excellently choreographed ensemble ensure that this is genuinely a production worth seeing.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Twelve years ago, from the mouth of a great sacrifice, a child was born.

And they called her Autumn.

Isaac returns to his family home with a chance to atone for the terrible mistake that sent him to prison.

Autumn is a little girl whose time is running out. With three sleeps left before her birthday, she can only wish for a miracle, or an unexpected act of selflessness.

Her grandmother, Sophia, brings them together in a desperate attempt to save her family, at any cost.

Set against the eerie backdrop of an isolated rural community and steeped in the folklore of the harvest, Grain in the Blood is a noirish thriller exploring a timely moral dilemma: how much are we prepared to sacrifice for the greater good?

Written by Traverse Associate Artist Rob Drummond (In Fidelity, Bullet Catch and Quiz Show) and directed by award-winning Traverse Artistic Director Orla O’Loughlin, whose recent work includes Milk, Swallow and Ciara.

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