Blood on Your Hands is a political piece of theatre that manages to pack a lot of heart. Written by Grace Joy Howarth and directed by Anastasia Bunce, the story follows Kostyantyn (Shannon Smith), a Ukrainian veterinarian starting his new job at the slaughterhouse. Torn between the harsh living conditions of immigrants, the painful irony and reality of his job, and being away from his pregnant wife Nina (Kateryna Hryhorenko) and two younger children, Kostyantyn's determination to push through for a better future forms the main plot. However, it's the relationships between the supporting characters that lie at the heart of the play. His friendship with fellow colleague Dan (Phillip John Jones), a cheery and positive local, relieves the show of its heaviness and is a thoughtful depiction of humanity and connection. Dan's ex partner and animal rights activist, Eden (Liv Jekyll) also becomes an integral part of the play with her strong acts of protest and their consequences.
The actors all have strong performances, easily charming the audience. Smith really brings out the warmth in Kostyantyn, and Jones ensures that every audience member falls in love with Dan's positivity. El-Balawi delivers an incredibly cold performance as both The Man (Kostyantyn's boss) and Callum. Jekyll shines in her small but vital role as Eden. Hryhorenko is the show's standout performer, navigating a variety of emotions.
The use of subtext and parallelism in this play is phenomenal, working wonders on a metaphorical and literal level. With the use of real news clips and Nina's increasing worries about the war on Ukraine, and the slow stripping away of Dan and Kostyantyn's dignity and peace of mind, the show subtly incorporates a whole array of other issues to be concerned with. The slow threading and weaving of these important topics is intelligently well done and really highlights the hypocrisy and irony that run deep in society. The show holds the audience in rapt attention throughout.
The essence of the show, however, slips away slightly with the introduction of too many new character relationships and subplots in the latter half. Whilst they pay off at the end, it results in a confusing section, especially given the number of flashbacks that occur with no clear transition. This is a little disheartening considering that the protesters are given very few scenes, and after a particularly outrageous act, loses their credibility slightly. Used more as a plot point, the noise fades slightly in implications of the silent emotional moments of storytelling.
The stage design (Ahmet Buyukcinar) is effective, with its ability to transform into two separate locations at once. With an elevated table, chairs and a locker, the presence of the slaughterhouse is constant, and the ground level rug flooring and chairs doubling up to locate everywhere else. The use of sound effects (The Araby Bazaar) is present throughout with the heavy pounding, heightening the tension. The lighting in a scene depicting a typical day's work in the slaughter-house, in a gory almost horror movie like sequence, is flawlessly executed (Abraham Walkling-Lea). The use of video projection (Alex Powell) drives the protest element of the show really well, with an almost overwhelming constant feed of edited video footage. The clinical white floor slowly being splattered with blood through video projection, is chilling.
Blood On Your Hands is a heavy show, but one to watch nonetheless. It is currently running at Southwark Playhouse until 3rd February. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Charles Flint