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The Phlebotomist review at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, London – ‘a clever dystopian drama’

Jade Anouka and Rory Fleck Byrne in The Phlebotomist at Hampstead Theatre, London. Photo Tristram Kenton

It’s sometimes said a good piece of theatre begins as late and ends as early as possible in the framework of a story.

Playing in Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space, Ella Road’s debut play The Phlebotomist does this and more, throwing us into the middle of a near-future dystopian Britain via the beginning (and perhaps the end) of one couple’s relationship.

In this world everyone is getting ‘blood-verified’ – genetic testing that breaks down the likelihood of everything from diabetes to liver cancer to a propensity to rule-breaking. You’re given a rank out of 10, which quickly establishes a new world order, as well as a blood black market for the rich.

Road’s writing feels charged, answering just enough questions to leave the imagination to run wild, while Sam Yates’ direction works well with the traverse set up. Rosanna Vize’s design, full of small touches like the progressively littered stage, is a treat. Duncan McLean’s smart, funny video design helps fill in the context of the world well.

The supporting characters — Vincent Ebrahim’s zen, wise David and Cherrelle Skeete’s career-driven, fearful then hopeful Char—both shine, as do Rory Fleck Byrne and Jade Anouka as couple Aaron and Bea. Their chemistry through both good times and bad is charged and brilliant, and continually reminds us of the play’s human core.

A comparison with Black Mirror would be obvious. However, as well as being a vehicle with which to explore an unfair world, The Phlebotomist is a clever play that is really about the relationships that thrive and fail within this world.

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Clever dystopia with a human touch about the dangers of knowing too much