Blood Pressure | Tamarama Rock SurfersI'm more than a bit late into the fray with Mark Rogers' Blood Pressure and ended up taking it in on a Saturday evening. Suffice to say, as valid as it is, Saturday evening is probably not the ideal time in which to imbibe this play. I mean, it's not exactly vaudeville. It's the story of two brothers, one afflicted with a terminal illness, who is 'tired'. He's trying to persuade his guilt-ridden sibling he doesn't want any more treatment. In fact, he wants to end it.

The play opens starkly. The set, realised by Damian Griffin and Clare Spillman, is all-white; clinical. Toby Knyvett's lighting is hard. Wade Briggs, as the dying brother, Adam, rushes to the toilet that sits centre stage, to vomit. He's in rejection, as is gradually revealed, following a series of rapid-fire exchanges between brothers. But before Adam lets Michael (Alexander Millwood), who's imploring entry, in, he spends some time hugging the porcelain bowl, wondering where to go from here. His refusal to let Michael in is a clear metaphor for the (presumably unintended) brutality of locking him out emotionally. As the play develops and crisis intensifies, the pressure-cooker explodes and Michael confesses past injury. We learn that he's dying, inside, too. In fact, about the only things keeping him alive are his musical abilities: he plays the piano, sings and composes. Just as pharmaceuticals are keeping Adam on his feet, these expressions are Michael's drugs.

Director Sanja Simic and the cast probably deserve as much credit for the final product as the writer. I gather this has been a deeply collaborative, fast-tracked process that began with just ten pages. Actually, if Simic is to be believed, it started with a mere conversation, 'which turned into an idea, which developed into a play'. Like many plays of recent memory, pace and momentum sometimes stand-in for truly incisive writing: while there are moments, especially later in the piece, that rivet one to one's seat, there are extended parlays of dialogue which tend to be rather circular and fruitless. This is the aggravating end of the production; happily, there's more than enough substance to all but erase the annoyance, which threatens, at times, to overwhelm that substance, but completely succeeds.

(When will more writers and directors take heed of the greater eloquence that often exists in periods of silence? A picture's worth a thousand words and a look, an exchange of glances, can often be far more poignant and communicative than a barrage of the writer's better favoured ammunition. It sometimes seems like a contagious condition, caught from exposure to the multi-mediated, sensorily overstimulated age in which we live: there are words and images to fill every second, allowing no time or space for free thought. But I digress.)

We never learn what Adam's problem is. We don't need to; it's almost immaterial. Which is to say, while the play is a study in the ripples of anguish a fatal illness can cause throughout a family, in a whole other sense it exploitts the scenario to open the lens a little wider, to take a critical, intensive look at the dynamics of brotherhood. Michael appears to be the older brother. He feels responsible. It's probably been inculcated from a very tender age; explicitly ('look after your little brother') and implicitly. The weight of that already heavy responsibility has almost become an immovable burden. This is the unexpected inversion of the work: one can easily find oneself feeling as much for Michael as for Adam, if not even moreso. Adam feels like the stronger, better adjusted brother, as unlikely as that may seem and as fraught as it is proving. Michael fusses over Adam like a mother hen, trying to assuage his guilt, one supposes, from being the 'healthy' one. So, in deference to Adam's queasiness, he sacrifices a concert that's clearly very important to him. Later, he confesses his distress when, at an eisteddfod, he looked to Adam, only to find him fiddling with his shoelaces, looking bored. It devastated him, yet he still feels compunction and compulsion to do everything possible for Adam. To say it's a moving scenario is redundant. Rogers has achieved more than the merely moving, he's drilled down and hit a nerve that will twitch in everyone that has a brother, a family, a past, regrets, hurts. That casts a pretty wide emotional net.

Simic has directed her actors firmly, by the look of it: Briggs and Millwood never really seem like they're acting. Can there be a higher compliment?  


Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre Company present
Blood Pressure
by Mark Rogers

Director Sanja Simic

Venue: The Old Fitzroy Theatre, Cnr Cathedral and Dowling Sts Woolloomooloo
Dates: Aug 14th - Sept 1st 2012
Times: Tue-Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $25 Conc, $33 Adult, Cheap Tuesdays and previews all $21
Bookings: rocksurfers.org | 1300 241 167


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