Nature or nurture? Are we the people we are because of our genes – or is our character formed by the world around us?
Or is it both?
These are questions to ponder in Blood Runs Deep, a new psychological thriller from Break A Leg Productions that’s getting its first outing at the Unity Theatre.
Written by David Paul and Emma Culshaw (the latter the pen-name of actress Emma Vaudrey who also stars in the show), Blood Runs Deep aims to explore themes of ‘truth, identity, natural instinct and family loyalty’.
It’s a tricky conceit to fully talk about without giving too much away about the plot, which revolves around a mysterious mother Karen (Vaudrey) and her teenage son Jake (Brandon McCaffery).
Jake is obsessed with serial killers, whose kills he collates in a sick sort of top trumps. A passion for all things horror and the macabre is shared by his nymphet girlfriend Zoe (Alice Merivale), who appears turned on by scenes of a gory nature.
Karen meanwhile is presented initially as a sullen, silent enigma who is clearly blotting out something terrible from her past with the aid of alcohol, along with fielding silent phonecalls from an intimidating stranger called Greg (John Schumacher) who turns up, stalker like, at the family’s door.
It’s Greg’s arrival that sets in motion a series of events which make each of the characters look closely and honestly at their lives and motives.
There are solid and interesting ideas at play, but the current version of Blood Runs Deep needs to be taken back to the drawing board and given a good reworking.
Blood Runs Deep. Photos by Anthony Robling
All these characters are emotionally damaged, and whatever their flaws – and they patently have many – the viewer should feel a certain sense of empathy as they follow their journeys through the course of the play.
But alas, they are so unappealing, and so many of the situations simply so unpleasant, that it’s hard to invest in their welfare or feel concern for their plights.
With psychological thrillers, the power to unsettle the audience lies in the unspoken and unseen. Here the menace is somewhat diminished by the level of physical violence on show.
And while it’s true there’s a certain sense of edge-of-your-seat tension as the first half unfolds, it’s mostly in the expectation of a really juicy plot twist (again, it’s hard to elaborate without giving away the story) that would take the action in new and exciting directions.
Alas, although there are hints that it’s coming, it never actually arrives, and the drama tips over in to melodrama in the second half.