Emotionally Riveting, ‘Blood River’
Having a choice is the basis of humanity, the purest expression of one’s free will. And what happens if this seemingly straightforward and essential expression is taken away from one’s self?
Blood River is a riveting play written by Kingston-based playwright Chloë Whitehorn and directed by Kingston-born Rosemary Doyle. I attended the world premiere of the show in the Baby Grand Theatre on Wednesday night. It is a play that touches on abortion and the larger issue of choice. The play follows three characters, Cybelle (Brayah Pickard), Diane (Shannon Donnelly), and Karen (Kay Vukelic) living in a world where abortion is illegal.
Cybelle is a young teenager and Diane is her very conservative mother. Karen is the coined “lady of the lake” and is Diane’s ex-best friend from high school. The play follows these characters as an unexpected event happens in Cybelle’s life which causes the women to question the society they live in and each other’s personal beliefs.
Pickard, Donnelly, and Vukelic are all exceptional performers. The way they are able to utilize and control their emotions flawlessly was a joy to watch. Especially for Vukelic, who seemed to click a button and have tears streaming down their face. I cannot even imagine how tiring every performance is for each actor.
The play does touch on very controversial topics such as abortion, but more generally on a woman’s right to choose. To choose to be their own person and not just live as an extension of their male partners. Plays that cover controversial topics like this can get lost in the lesson and can seem like lecturing, straying away from the story in a negative way. In Blood River, this is not the case. Whitehorn was able to craft the play in a way so the story comes first but is always centred around the central theme of choice and what that means. She also did it in a way which takes both perspectives in a fair and well-conceived manner.
I found the play to be very emotionally heavy. I was prepared for this as I did some research on the project before going in, but it still surprised me how heavy the show was. From the first monologue to the last line, it is jam-packed with emotion. There is a touch of comedic relief sprinkled throughout the performance but it landed a bit short for me as it was very much millennial-type humour. Nevertheless, given the laughs in the audience, many did find these moments immensely humorous.
The pacing is also consistent but every scene is so emotionally packed with arguments, crying, and reconciling that it felt hard as an audience member to relax and take in what was happening. This is not a criticism—just an observation as I know many people who would enjoy these emotionally in-depth shows. Personally, these are not my cup of tea. Is this a show you will see me running to see a second time? No. With that being said I am delighted I was able to experience this well-thought-out play and I encourage others to go and see it. It touches on and challenges so-called “taboo” topics in a fantastic way and helped me look at these issues in a new light which I loved.
I also want to highlight and applaud the whole production team consisting of Rosemary Doyle (Director), Clelia Scala (Set Designer), Seymour Irons (Costume Designer), Will Smith Blyth (Lighting and Stage Manager) and Taylor Moore (ASM Intern). The play takes place fully on a dock and a small canoe in a river. This beautiful set coupled with the lighting and sound design helps to feel right at the river with them (being in the front row and so close to the action also helped). The costume design, especially for Karen’s character, was fabulously done. It is a very ambiguous costume throughout the performance. I kept thinking about why she was wearing what she was wearing, but it came full circle at the end of the performance in an excellent and climactic way.
Blood River is a beautifully executed play that touches on important topics of choice and abortion. It is brilliantly acted and directed and I encourage everyone to go out and see it, not only to enjoy the story but to also learn something in the process.
This article was edited on December 1st, 2023 to update formatting.