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The Phlebotomist

"My name's Alex. I'm looking for somebody to enjoy life with, . . . . . . which means realistically I'm looking for somebody who is 6.5 or above. Not that I have a problem with low raters and obviously I know I'm only 6.3 but if you look at my breakdown, it's mainly because I'm coeliac and my eyesight."
— Dating site video
The Phlebotomist
Jade Anouka as Bea and Rory Fleck Byrne as Aaron
(Photo: Marc Brenner)
Ella Road's first play The Phlebotomist was shown downstairs at Hampstead last year but generated enough interest to be transferred upstairs to the larger space. It is set in a "Brave New World" which may not be so far away judging by an introductory video made in 2017 where the Chief Medical Officer of Health for England, Sally Davies, advocated widespread genome testing to facilitate treatment of rare genetic and inherited disorders.

While the rest of us are advised of the best intentions of the medics, Road's play illustrates the ramifications of publically known genome ratings. You see these genome ratings will list genetic disposition to disease and life expectancy. Employers who spend on training for trainees and mortgage companies will have more information about life expectancy than that provided by actuaries.

While the testing is not compulsory, those who choose not to disclose and those who choose not to be tested will be regarded with suspicion as having something to hide. Bea (Jade Anouka) works in a hospital as a phlebotomist collecting and analysing blood samples for genome research. When her friend Char (Kizi Deen) who has Huntington's Chorea in her immediate family, is rated as a 2.2, she begs Bea to help her falsify her results.

Such is the importance of genome ratings, that side industries develop. Alzheimers, Cancer and Diabetes Type 2 can be predicted. Immigrants will be tested at Entry points. Schools offer a specialised education for those of 7.2 and above with longevity. Remedial health "schemes" (or should that be scams?) are on sale allegedly improving ratings, and the dark underbelly of fake results and a black market in "highly" rated blood samples will be generated. People will explore whole body blood transfusions to fool the testers. This is a nightmare effect on humanity caused by scientific knowledge.

Bea has coupled up with Aaron Tennyson (Rory Fleck Byrne) a highly rated 8.9 Irishman and related to the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. They live happily together, get married and although Aaron is opposed to bringing children into this dystopian world, he eventually agrees that they should have a baby together. Bea's standard of living has improved due to after hours deals with a private doctor, facilitating better results for her rich patients, while Aaron completes a pupillage with a firm of barristers. Meanwhile Char joins a protest group to look out for those disempowered by genome-ocracy.

While this first play, with its vision of a divisive, elitist future may not be unique, Road has good ideas and The Phlebotomist is well constructed and dramatic with revelations I didn't see coming. It is all too scarily possible.

Jade Anouka is an outstanding talent playing a likeable young woman who has difficult decisions to make. I liked too Kizi Deen's performance as Char as her disability takes hold.

The design sees a dismantling of the walls of the set as the future becomes more complex and the set changes are revealed behind. In between scenes there are video interviews and pieces which explain more about how ratings are impacting on mortgage applications, job interviews and dating sites.

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The Phlebotomist
Written by Ella Road
Directed by Sam Yates
Starring: Jade Anouka, Kiza Deen, Rory Fleck Byrne, Mark Lambert
With: Claudia Cadette, Edward Wolstenholme
Design: Rosanna Vize
Sound Designer: Sinead Diskin
Lighting Design: Zoe Spurr
Video Designer: Louise Rhoades-Brown
Movement Director: Michela Meazza
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 20th April 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th March 2019 evening performance at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue Jermyn Street, London NW3 3EU (Tube: Swiss Cottage)
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