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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

As a journalist you can easily turn into a machine, you can't hold on to feelings for long, because if you did you wouldn't be able to carry on . . . but on the other hand when you try to describe and understand the suffering, the often meaningless suffering, without any feelings of your own . . . that's not possible either.
--- Rosa
Nicholas Le Prevost as Eric and Francesca Annis as Rosa
(Photo: Ivan Kyncl)
Taking a family who were imprisoned, tortured, separated by Pinochet's regime in Chile, Swedish playwright Lars Nóren has written Blood, an updating of the Oedipus legend for the post modern age. Of course the play by Sophocles is not really about incest or about boys falling for their mothers and wanting to kill their fathers, that is really the legend and the legacy of Sigmund Freud. Oedipus Rex is about good leadership, discovery, the search for the truth and a destination of inner sight through blindness. Blood is about the long term devastating impact on people's lives of a politically oppressive and murderous regime.

The play is set in Paris in the 1990s almost twenty years after the coup which deposed Allende's government in Chile and brought General Pinochet to power. Rosa Sabato (Francesca Annis) is from Santiago, a war reporting journalist and married to psycho-analyst Eric (Nicholas Le Prevost). Rosa has written an autobiographical novel and in the opening scene of the play she is being interviewed for a television arts programme. This device enables the playwright to cover a large amount of background quickly and concisely. While Rosa is appearing on television we hear Eric's answer machine taking calls from his patients, one of whom, a man in his twenties, Luca (Tom Hardy) seems not only upset but overly dependent on Eric. Rosa talks about her son who was taken away from them in Santiago and whom they have not heard of since. In later scenes Eric visits at his shambolic apartment the volatile Luca, who is HIV positive, very unstable and was raped as a child in prison. It is apparent that Eric and Luca are lovers.

The beginning of the play which looks at Rosa's story is a straightforward historical account of her imprisonment in Chile and the separation from her seven year old son, Paolo. She a has been to Chile on eleven occasions to search for her son, all in vain. We see Rosa, the woman who is a survivor of oppression, who is able to talk about her ordeal and who earns a living reporting the scenarios of war ravaged areas. Eric on the other hand is seen only as Luca's lover and as a man trapped in an increasingly dysfunctional marriage.

Midway through the play, I wrote in my notes, "Now I feel like a voyeur". My discomfort was caused by the scene in which Rosa and Eric recreate her torture in a Chilean prison cell where she is verbally abused, hit and raped by a guard. In some kind of weird perversion, the only sexual contact between husband and wife is in this sadistic and cruel role play. This is what Rosa wants; Eric is a reluctant participant. Maybe Eric's psychoanalytical resources offer no help for Rosa or indeed himself. Their marriage is cold, unhappy and irretrievable.

I liked the way in which the media are seen to feed off tragedy. In the final scene Luca, in a secure psychiatric unit, is being interviewed for television by the same interviewer Madeleine H (Ingrid Lacey) who opened the play talking to Rosa.

The performances are more than sound, better than memorable. While Francesca Annis is devastatingly attractive, she is in danger of being typecast in roles where sons are attracted to their mother -- The Vortex, Ghosts and Hamlet are her most recent forays on the London stage. With her liquid brown eyes nd agony of expression, she conveys all the terrible pain of a woman who has lost her child under brutal circumstances. She is self critical, tense, insecure. A woman who is not allowed to know whether her son is alive or dead. Nicholas Le Prevost is a quiet foil to both Annis and Tom Hardy, whose volatile Luca is a tour de force. Ingrid Lacey's interviewer is played with a chilling sang froid.

I liked Hildegard Bechtler's set, the organised book case lined walls of Rosa and Eric's apartment, the muddle of Luca's bedroom and the archive slides, images of Pinochet's regime recreating history.

This play has taken eight years to come to London from an outing at the Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen in 1995. It is an exercise in "how the borders between life and art have been demolished" as Madeleine H describes it? I found myself comparing it with Giuseppe Manfridi's Cuckoos, again a modern take on Oedipus.

There is much to be recommended in this engrossing production of a flawed play which, at times, is disturbing. The coincidences are implausible. I may have found the plot unlikely but the capable direction and outstanding performances convinced me of the terrible hurt man inflicts on man.

Written by Lars Nóren
Translated by Maja Zade
Directed by James Macdonald

Starring: Francesca Annis, Nicholas Le Prevost
With: Ingrid Lacey, Tom Hardy
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Running time: Two hours with no interval .
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 25th October 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 25th September 2003 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1 (Tube Station: Sloane Square)
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