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Review: Grain in the Blood at KXT Broadway

Review by Anja Bless

How far would you go to save a life? What if it was a family member? A child? Grain in the Blood, based on the novel of the same name by Rob Drummond and premiering in Australia for the first time at KXT Broadway, asks these questions of the power of kinship and the pain of sacrifice. 

Set in rural Scotland in a small farm cottage, Grain in the Blood uncovers the trials, tribulations, and desperation of Sophia (Siobhan Lawless) as she tries to save her granddaughter, Autumn (Kim Clifton), from death. Her hopes, and those of Autumn’s devoted aunty Violet (Genevieve Muratore), lie with her convicted criminal son, Isaac (Ciarán O’Riordan), who has been given temporary compassionate leave from prison to visit his dying daughter and decide whether he will donate the kidney that could save her life. All witnessed by prisoner protection officer, Burt (Nick Curnow).

Like any good thriller, Grain in the Blood slowly peels back the layers of the mystery, leaving many questions unanswered and keeping audiences hungry for more as the tangled web of relationships, guilt, anger, love, and death is laid bare throughout the tight 80 minute show. Victor Kalka’s accomplished direction ensures that the audience never quite feels like they have the whole story, and that they can’t predict what any character will do next. Kalka does well to weave in the elements of superstition and ancient ritual tradition and mysticism into the play, making use of the talents of Clifton to appear ethereal one moment, and sassy 12 year old the next. Curnow too deserves special mention for his lovable portrayal of Burt, a man with principles and demons of his own, who slips into the mess of this family’s grief and conflict in spite of himself for the sake of company and a home-cooked meal. One notable scene being a game of truth and dare, where the chemistry and comfort between the performers makes the scene joyful to watch and extremely believable. Humour is general used well by Kalka and the cast to help break up the eeriness of the folk-noir style of Drummond’s story. Giving welcomed moments of laughter among the anger, grief, and desperation. 

Setting the scene of this tale and its folk-lore is the work of dialect coach Linda Nicholls-Gidley, who has managed to develop near impeccable Scottish accents with each of the cast members. What might have been distracting, or a disaster, in terms of the performance, becomes a strength as the accents help transport the audience to the valleys of rural Scotland, aided by the sound design and compositions featuring bagpipes by Madeleine Picard. The set design by Kalka likewise complements the lighting designed by Jasmin Borsovsky portray everthing from feelings of homeliness, eeriness, and other-worldliness when needed. 

There is little to critique in Grain in the Blood. It leaves enough stones unturned to keep audience members talking long after curtain call. Though perhaps leaving the very last moment of the play up to the imagination would have been the wiser choice than a gunshot limiting the range of possibilities. The open-endedness would then leave the audience pondering more deeply what outcome they desired. 

Making great use of the new KXT space, Grain in the Blood is excellent independent theatre that is as enjoyable to watch at the time as it is to unpack and unravel long after the final scene. 

Image Credit: Clare Hawley


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