Epstein Theatre, Liverpool – until 2 November 2019
Reviewed by Amy Nash
In Blood Runs Deep, single mother Karen Richards (Emma Vaudrey) has just moved into a new flat with her teenage son Jake (Brandon McCaffrey). It’s the latest in a string of unexplained moves in Jake’s life, and the brief peace they find is shattered by a knock on the door from Greg (Anthony Costa). Little by little, the terrible truth Karen is trying to escape from reveals itself…
Produced by Break A Leg Productions in association with Bill Elms, Blood Runs Deep successfully carried on from its sell-out pilot production at the Unity Theatre in 2018. Curiously enough, Blood Runs Deep reminded me of Shearsmith and Pemberton’s Inside No 9 TV series – and I mean that as a huge compliment! The production made fantastic use of its setting, confining everything the audience saw to only one room. Laura Murphy’s set design and Pete Mitchelson’s lighting design came together beautifully to create a living space that could change from cosy and warm to cold and menacing in a moment. Their choice to illuminate behind the set during scenes set at night to simulate the glow of streetlamps coming through the windows and door was inspired and created many a tense moment whenever a shadow fell over them.
Instead of creating unrealistic scenarios where every important event happens in the living room of Karen’s flat, Emma Culshaw and David Paul were as careful with what they chose not to show as they were with what took place on the stage. By far the tensest moments in the play were created not by what was happening on stage, but the implication of what was taking place out of our view. Their dialogue was quick and clever, with seeds of what was to come sewn so early and so naturally into the play that it never read as foreshadowing until it was too late to predict what was going to unfold. Thrillers often live and die by their plot twists and turns, and Blood Runs Deep thrived because of them; they never felt cheap or unearned but at the same time came so quickly and unpredictably that the audience was left gasping by the end.
Anthony Costa absolutely killed the role of Greg – his performance was by far one of the most enjoyable aspects of Blood Runs Deep. Nuanced and unpredictable, he was able to capture the audience’s heart as a rough but well-meaning man with a traumatic past – and yet you were never quite sure if you could trust him. This performance was perfect for Greg, and perfect for the play as a whole, which revolved around whether you could trust even your own family. Another standout was Alice Merivale playing Zoe: Jake’s girlfriend, who is drawn into the family drama when the truth comes out. She commanded attention in every scene she was in, perfectly capturing the role of a traumatised teenager, and it was genuinely sad to see less of her on stage when the plot shifted away from her in the second act.
Blood Runs Deep was an exhilarating ride that kept the audience guessing even after the curtains went down. Though it answered the most important questions it set up at the start of the play, it was carefully crafted to leave enough loose ends to give you plenty to discuss afterwards. Overall, a well crafted, well-acted tale that sticks in your mind – and definitely worth catching at the Epstein before the end of its run.