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Review: Blood Relations

The eerie play explores a notorious suspected murder in an immersive experience


In the Corpus Playroom, I was immersed in 1800s Massachusetts with Sharon Pollock’s clever exploration into a classic villain, unsettlingly brought to life through brilliant set and acting, and made to question the factors that came into play in the lead-up to the infamous act. 

The play opens with Lizzie Borden (Holly Varndell), five years after the trial for the double homicide of her parents in which she was found not guilty, having tea with her friend The Actress (Irisa Kwok), when they start to recreate the night in question. The Actress, posing as Lizzie, relives the days leading up to the murder, as the audience is made to question the factors that play into a brutal act, and where the line between acting and reality lies. 

Image credits: Miranda Crawford

Irisa Kwok’s performance as Lizzie/Actress was strong and captivating. Watching Lizzie slowly deteriorate through the play, and perhaps also the Actress’ faith in her friend’s innocence, was painful, as she loses faith in the people around her. Bringing a different angle to the often portrayed (and important exploration) of the woman rebelling against the pressures of 1800s society, she created an intense sympathy for Lizzie while the audience was unaware of her eventual actions, and an inkling of understanding for those that do unfold. While sometimes lines felt rushed, their performance was captivating and powerful. 

Holly Varndell’s Miss Lizzie/Bridget was an interestingly different take on the character of Lizzie. Their dream-like asides were effective and intense, bringing a new level of understanding to Lizzie. A particularly notable section was in the conclusion, where she created a palpable sense of horror, reflecting that of the audience.

While occasionally sporting questionable accents, performances by the rest of the cast were good, particularly Miranda Evans’ Mrs Borden. Her performance only made our disgust for her character grow, though as she, and those around her, started to fear Lizzie, the complexity of her Mrs Borden emerged, and demonstrated that although we feel sympathy towards Lizzie, no one deserved to be victim to her actions, and it actually made me question not only how misogyny villainises Lizzie, but also how Mrs Borden is villainised. This aspect was an interesting extra facet to the objective of the play and contributed to the change of tone throughout the play as the events unfold. 

Image credits: Miranda Crawford

The dream-like atmosphere of the play was really felt through the unearthly asides, as Holly Varndell’s Lizzie explores her memory and childhood, explaining it to the Actress as they explore Lizzie’s past together. Additionally, snippets of the trial, with Audrey Hammer’s convincing and intense defence attorney, created a montage effect, making it difficult to discern what is truth, and what is Lizzie’s created fiction.  

Particularly notable was the set. The use of props to create zones and an immersive setting left the audience in the world of Lizzie Borden, and in the world of 1800s Massachusetts, as well as giving the actors opportunities to cleverly mark the passage of time during what feels like a dream-scape. Sophie Richardson’s lighting design was also interesting, using sharply contrasting red lighting to create an ominous atmosphere, and an intense spotlight on Holly Varndell’s Lizzie to create an effective motif which added to the mysterious mood. 

Image credits: Miranda Crawford

Also worth mentioning was Grace Baxter’s costume design, which was both stylish and significant. The stark contrast between Lizzie/Actress’ costume and that of the other characters was noticeable and an interesting addition, and the small details in Dr Patrick/Defence’s costume made it multifaceted and adaptable to both characters. 

Overall, Blood Relations was an immersive play, with meaningful questions raised about the attitudes towards women, and our morbid curiosity for acts of horrific violence.

4/5

4/5