Blood Relations Review
author: quinn bell | a&c writer
She wants to ‘axe’ you a question. / Courtesy Theatre department
If you want blood, you got it.
“I don’t want to freak you out, but have you lost someone close to you in the last few days?”
“No, I don’t think I have,” I replied nervously, surprised by the woman who came up to me at work, seemingly out of nowhere. What a wild question to be asked by a stranger. “Do you have a friend named Andrew by chance?” she continued, “And are you sure? Again, I’m not trying to freak you out.”
I asked her if I looked familiar, and whether she knew this Andrew’s last name. I thought maybe she had just she seen someone like me at a funeral this weekend. “No… No… I’m from Vancouver. It must just be a feeling coming from the room…” she trailed off, and wouldn’t say any more about him.
A while after she left, I realized something. I do know an Andrew: he died last night and I was a witness, right there inside his own home on 2nd Street. That is, Andrew Borden, late (murdered) father to Lizzie Borden, main characters in Sharon Pollock’s Blood Relations, in production last week by the University of Regina Theatre Department. I won’t get into just how creeped the hell out I am that this woman from B.C. could feel this on me… *shudder*… but I will take it as a sign of something I already knew to be true — Blood Relations has stuck with me long after watching it. From the set and lighting design to the purposeful, dynamic acting of each and every actor and actress, Blood Relations is an accomplishment to be proud of.
For anyone who missed it, Blood Relations is based on the true story of an unsolved double-murder of Abigail and Andrew Borden, which took place in the town of Fall River in the summer of 1892. Lizzie Borden, the unmarried 34-year-old daughter of the pair, was arrested and put on trial for the murders; she was, however, acquitted. No one was ever charged with the crime. Pollock’s play is a window into what might have happened leading up to the murders, allowing audiences to speculate on why they occurred.
The University of Regina cast and crew made this speculation delightfully dramatic, intimate, and at times, even quite humorous. The emotionality of the actors seeped off them and filled the room. When Lizzie (Rachel Walliser)’s precious birds were killed, I felt tense with her heaviness and despair; when she broke into a rage you could feel that tension crack and shatter like the porcelain dishes she threw across the stage. Walliser’s portrayal of Miss Lizzie’s slow but steady psychological unraveling felt so real that it was impossible to not be drawn into her world. The complexities of Pollock’s Lizzie came to life in both Walliser and in Nicole Garies (who also played Lizzie, later in life). Her pain was tangible.
Another moment that really got to me — probably my favourite moment of the play — was Tatsuhiro Ishido’s stunning defence of Lizzie, as her attorney. In pleading to the unseen jury that only someone who was truly mad could kill their own parents in such a way, Ishido suddenly fell to his knees and reenacted the axe murders: blow by blow. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. I could hear Ishido’s panting just as I could see the sweat dripping from his face. It was clear that he was putting everything into those forty blows. And he just… kept… going. It made me squirm in the most involved way: I could really imagine being in that courtroom and having to picture every strike. Continuing his defence, Ishido further broke the audience-actor barrier and walked up between rows of audience seating. Again, it was hard not to be drawn into the scene. Were we the jury? Were we the ones being tasked with deciding Lizzie’s fate?
This effect of being drawn into the play — be it by powerful emoting or dynamic and surprising acting — was boosted by the set design of the production, as well. Hosting the play in the smaller Shu-Box Theatre gave a certain “visceral intensity” to the production, as director Mark Claxton said it would. It certainly had audiences “right close and personal with it.”
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the costume design, which lured me even further into the Borden household. The matching, somewhat gloomy style and colours of the dress tied everything together.
Congratulations to everyone involved with this remarkable production. I know I’m not the only one who was drawn deeply into the world you all portrayed. I’ll be carrying Blood Relations around with me for a good while, even after this haunting Halloween week.