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Preview: Blood Relations

“Thrilling, thought-provoking and trippy”: Blood Relations explores themes of misogyny and villainisation


As another thrilling week of Cambridge theatre peers over the horizon of Week 6, true crime fans will be given a real treat with the production of Blood Relations that is coming to the Corpus Playroom. We caught up with directors  Lily Isaacs and Tasmin Jones to find out more.

The play’s plot is concerned primarily with “questions about misogyny and family, love and friendship, and what it means to ever find ‘the truth'”. The play opens in 1902, where “Lizzie Borden (Irisa Kwok) is making tea for ‘the Actress’, her ‘friend’… girlfriend (Holly Varndell)”.

Image credits: Lily Isaacs

Lily and Tasmin: “The Actress tells Lizzie she’s been hearing kids around town singing a nursery rhyme about how Lizzie murdered her parents with an axe, and she asks if the rumours are true. Lizzie suggests they act out the evening of the murders, with the actress playing Lizzie and Lizzie playing her maid, Bridget.”

Moving between these two time frames, the play creates a dynamic tension with the result that we are fully immersed in uncovering the truth about what happened to Lizzie’s parents. This gives light to the main message the show conveys, which is that “we shouldn’t listen to narratives about ‘crazy’ women without questioning what ‘crazy’ means.

The play is also close to Lily’s heart in particular, who talks about the inspiration for the show:

Lily: “My grandma gave [the play] to me, and from the first page I was hooked. Lizzie Borden’s case has been famous for decades – there’s even a Lizzo song about her, but no one has written about her like Sharon Pollock has. We think this script so cleverly picks apart the flawed way we remember things – what it means to pretend to be someone else – and whether or not we are to blame for our worst mistakes. It’s fascinating to take a person who history has villainized and upset the reasons for the characterisation.”

Image credits: Lily Isaacs

“The show has never been performed in the UK, and we’re excited for the opportunity to put it on here for the first time. We underestimate how significant misogyny is when the media works to villainize women – just look at Amber Heard or Monica Lewinsky.”

“The show has never been performed in the UK, and we’re excited for the opportunity to put it on here for the first time. We underestimate how significant misogyny is when the media works to villainize women – just look at Amber Heard or Monica Lewinsky.”

Bringing the show to life in Corpus has been enjoyable too, with Lily commenting that the space is “fantastic for it”. They have also taken steps to play with “how to involve the audience in the different time frames and the crazy role-switching parts of the show”.

As well as this, they create an intriguing and immersive atmosphere by creating “the perfect 19th-century living room”, which is aided by “some amazing music – some modern stuff you’ll recognise, and some you might not”, Tasmin adds.

Image credits: Lily Isaacs

This show promises to be “unforgettable”; Lily leaves us with some closing thoughts on why people should come to see the show:

Lily: “It doesn’t matter whether you’ve heard of Lizzie Borden. As a society, we underestimate how far misogyny plays into narratives about women. Sharon Pollock knows this – and she fantastically upends what you would expect with a “historical” show like this – there are great laughs, great shocks, and some trippy surreal moments in there too. If anything, it will be a great night out!”

Blood Relations certainly offers an intriguing premise as well as a unique play structure that makes it definitely worth looking out for as a special production this term. And to close, I will end with the pair’s favourite line from the show, which perfectly encapsulates the mystery and tension that characterises the problems at the heart of this play:

“Did Lizzie Borden take an axe?… If you didn’t I should be disappointed…and if you did I should be horrified.”

Blood Relations is showing on the 28th of February – 4th of March at 7:00 pm at the Corpus Playroom. Book your tickets here.