I don’t think it’s unusual to hear that the cast of a play “just had so much fun” staging a production, or to hear an actor enthuse about the fact that a cast had become genuine friends whilst putting on a show. It’s a pretty standard line, and so I was unsurprised to hear it whilst talking to the actors in This Blood’s For You, the Week 3 Corpus Mainshow, when I joined them for one of their final technical rehearsals before opening night.
However, as I watched everyone preparing to run through the play’s final scene, I realised the genuine truth in that statement. The final scene is a heavy one – the main character, Charlie James, is awaiting imminent execution, and the cast gathers for a grimly sombre send-off, filled with unnerving silences and forced laughter. It’s an ending that Ben Vince, who plays Father John, describes as “ambivalent”, a cliff-hanger that isn’t necessarily frustrating because “the audience will have got the sense that the relationships between the characters have run their course”. It’s a lot for the actors to take on, all whilst attempting to show the intricate web of relationships their characters have developed with each other, and I wonder, as every gets into their places for the scene, whether they’ll be able to portray both the bleakness of the ending and the genuine solidarity between the characters.
Just before they begin, Vince makes a joke about the strength of the squash used as a prop for wine, everyone dissolves into laughter, and I watch as the friendship between the actors translates into a wonderful cohesion between them as their characters ultimately say farewell to the ill-fated Charlie James.
That’s not to say that the actors are unaware of the gravity of this play’s subject matter. Sam Tannenbaum, who plays Charlie James, speaks at length about the research he had done into capital punishment, feeling a great deal of responsibility not to downplay the “horrific situation” of the execution that forms the basis of the play. He is careful not to present his character, who he describes as having the “humour of an immature child turned all the way up”, as having no depth beyond his sharp wit. The humour in this play, he says, acts as a performative mask granting the characters distance from the severity of their situation, and the most harrowing moments in the play are “when that mask slips”. He presents a primary protagonist who is as deeply complex as he is funny, and in that sense turns the fate of Charlie James over to the audience. It will be up to the people leaving the theatre and idly discussing what they have just seen to decide whether or not Charlie deserves to die, one of the primary reasons Tannenbaum believes we should see it: “You should see this play because it is so topical, and because it will open up a very relevant discussion about capital punishment.”
This Blood’s For You straddles the line between satire and social commentary, which sounds like a daunting task. How do you intersperse humour into a discussion on something as polemical as capital punishment? Ben Vince, playing Father John, told me that it was a lot easier than he anticipated. The play revolves around “grappling with the most serious of things”, but in that sense “accessing [difficult topics] through humour” becomes the easiest way into explorations of death. His role, playing what he calls the “bad priest” Father John, is one of the easiest to make comedic, given that John is an alcoholic who is trying (and failing) to live a religious life. The imperfection of both his and all of the characters in this play is examined through the juxtaposition between the darkly humorous and deadly serious, and the audience is drawn into this conflict every time they are tempted to laugh.
This Blood’s For You is a comedy and a commentary, a play that will make you laugh whilst pondering some incredibly unfunny existential questions. It is a show of contradictions in the best way. To put it plainly, it is a really good piece of student theatre that is not to be missed.
This Blood’s For You is being directed by Fly girl Fola Amuludun, and is at the Corpus Playroom until the 27th of October. For more information, inc. tickets: https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/play/this-bloods-for-you/?fbclid=IwAR0UFaBEAAC_6yVRoICu0DOXXzu6kav0YxyPAcCaCFfkNO9dQ-isQj7bVss