Preview: The Phlebotomist

I caught up with the co-directors of the Week 0 Corpus main show, The Phlebotomist, a fascinating Dystopian romance with deeper social undercurrents

The Phlebotomist – written by Ella Road – is a gripping Dystopian romance which is set to be brought to the Corpus Playroom’s stage as their Week 0 main show. I sat down with the play’s co-directors, Lily Isaacs and Elena Pare, to find out more. 

The very premise of the play sounds chilling, as Lily comments that “it’s set in a future where blood tests determine your rating in society.” This rating, she says, takes into account “your health, your mental health, the diseases that you’re predisposed towards, and diseases that have been in your family… And so we watch a couple and different friends navigate their way through this world.”

Rehearsals! Image credits: Lily Isaacs

It doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve seen on-stage, and she acknowledges this: “You don’t really get many dystopias in theatre – you get a lot in film and TV, but somehow it hasn’t quite made it as a genre onto the stage, which is why we think this one is so special.”

Something which sounds equally intriguing is the play’s use of pre-recorded ‘interludes’ which will be projected onto the stage and interspersed with the play’s main romantic plotline, blending elements of theatre and film in an intriguing fashion. Some of these interludes are being filmed in Cambridge at the moment, and Elena says they’ll include, “Footage of the real world, e.g., news footage and dating apps”, which will give a deeper insight into this dystopian world beyond just the lives of the two protagonists, who are “high-raters.” This, they say, will hopefully, “really destabilise the audience… and then draw them in emotionally to the main plot.”

Another rehearsal shot – image credits: Elena Pare

Bearing in mind that neither of these two have directed a play in Cambridge before, this sounds like a real challenge! 

But they don’t seem concerned, noting that they’re glad they could co-direct it, but that at the end of the day, “it’s quite a weird piece”, so it probably wouldn’t have made a difference whether they’d directed a more conventional play before or not.  

The ‘main star’, too, has very little experience on the Cambridge stage, being a fresher. This is something we might be seeing more and more from now on, given the ADC’s new guidelines restricting the number of plays anyone can be involved with at once.

For The Phlebotomist, the fact that the team is relatively inexperienced seems to be a positive – they noted that it allows for a more collaborative approach, with “more heads” involved in the process. “It’s exciting to be working together without expectations… we’re all just trying to make it as good as possible – there’s a great atmosphere.”

Image credits: Elena Pare

This approach is especially key at the moment because, of course, everything is still up in the air due to the ongoing pandemic: the Michaelmas panto, Rapunzel, had to be cut short due to a positive covid test, and Lily and Elena are both aware that this is still always a possibility for The Phlebotomist as well. “It keeps it nice and spontaneous… it helps for enjoying the rehearsal process, knowing that whatever happens, it will have been fun in the end.” 

The pandemic seems to be a running undercurrent of The Phlebotomist content-wise, too – “We were doing a moment yesterday where [one of the characters] has to put on a face mask because she’s worried about getting the flu – it just felt very covid-y.” 

All-in-all, although 2022 is definitely a challenging time to be staging a play, as Lily says, “We’ve been really happy that it’s been able to go ahead at all.” The Phlebotomist looks set to be a thrilling play which offers an intriguing analysis of elitism and a fascinating blend of theatrical and cinematic techniques – a great one to stop by at in Week 0. I hope I’ll be seeing you there!

The Phlebotomist runs from Tuesday 18th January until Saturday 22nd January at 7.00pm at the Corpus Playroom, and is recommended for audiences aged 15+. Tickets are available here.

Feature image credits (poster design credits): Bernie Carter