One Little Prick Can't Hurt, Can It?: The Phlebotomist At Hampstead Theatre

The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Mike C Last edited 21 months ago

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One Little Prick Can't Hurt, Can It?: The Phlebotomist At Hampstead Theatre The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre 3
Photo: Marc Brenner

Just one little prick can’t hurt, can it…? Oh, but in the age of genome sequencing and selection, it most certainly can. Bea and Aaron meet by chance in a hospital where he’s a patient and she draws blood for a living. This may be a fairly obvious metaphor for her, and Aaron’s aristo-artistic descent may give a clue as to his destiny. Neither is entirely honest with the other, and in a world where data manipulation and genetic engineering are converging, that’s dangerous. People are rated, dating app-style by the quality of their genetic makeup, and this leads to careers, romance and cheap health insurance for the high numbers — and social exclusion, economic disadvantage and foetus selection for the lows. Someone’s obviously read Brave New World.

Photo: Marc Brenner

So far, so Black Mirror, and act 1 has a tendency to fall down a few too many rabbit holes: the vignettes are watchable but lack narrative drive — or Charlie Brooker’s sophisticated humour and massive streaming service budgets. Things warm up rapidly, however, in act 2 as we focus in on Jade Anouka’s Bea (who we now know to be selling “good” blood) and Rory Fleck Byrne’s increasingly troubled Aaron. Their explosive row, which leads to a shocking climax for one of them, stopping the audience short, is the centrepiece exposing the play’s what-ifs.

Photo: Marc Brenner

It’s underscored by the effective dismantling of the set in geometric pieces: not as naff a visual metaphor for social and personal breakdown as it may sound, as it slowly reveals the sets and props stored backstage. Writer Ella Road says the production has been scaled up for its move from the basement at Hampstead to the main stage and it certainly benefits from the sense of disconnection and disintegration as the scene-shifters deconstruct the world around her characters. Designer Rosanna Vize and Zoe Spurr (lighting) create a sparse, alienating and dystopian place, like suddenly feeling old and impoverished in an Apple Store.

Photo: Marc Brenner

We are slowly discovering that the digital, always-on, know-everything about everyone world isn’t quite as nice as we’d believed. Chillingly, what The Phlebotomist doesn’t answer is whether there is anything we can do about it.

The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU. Tickets from £18, until 20 April 2019.

Last Updated 27 March 2019