The setting for Paul Sirett’s dark drama Bad Blood Blues is as minimalist as it is mysterious. From the dark, hazy stage to the single anonymous desk, we could almost be anywhere in the world… if it wasn’t for the bags of blood suspended from the ceiling.

Located in an unspecified African country, the office belongs to Claire (Simone Holmes), a dedicated medical researcher from Manchester who is trying to find an affordable treatment for pregnant women with AIDS. She serves as a mentor to aspiring student Patrice (Kuda Sambuko), but slowly begins to realise that he is not all he seems.

Direction by John Rwoth-Omack lends the drama a punchy pace, with just enough intrigue to keep us invested in the two characters’ lives. Though the struggling relationship between Claire and Patrice is believable and compelling, the performance suffers a little from unnecessary melodrama. Nevertheless, the cast’s skillful treatment of their dark subject matter is enough to leave the audience stunned.

The star of the show, however, is musician Rob Green. An unnamed character who strolls onstage during each lull in the dialogue, Green strums an acoustic guitar and sings spellbinding blues melodies, providing a poignant interlude to allow the play’s disturbing message to sink in.

The message in question is the rampant injustice at the heart of the medical testing system. Sirett’s script pulls no punches, questioning why, even today, danger and suffering are exported to developing countries in the development of drugs that will ultimately benefit the western world. Throughout the play, our instinctive protestations are constantly anticipated and turned on their head, leaving us with a bleak and uncomfortable view of how our medicines are really produced.

As Rwoth-Omack said in his interview with Forge, “What makes one life more important than another?”

Photographs copyright: Bad Blues Brothers

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