‘Each year with the appearance of the harvest moon, the villagers made a sacrifice of thanks to the Grain Mother. And as long as the blood flowed in the grain and the grain flowed in the blood, all would be just so in the valley.’
With grain dollies, blood sacrifices, and delightfully creepy chanting, the latest play by Scottish playwright Rob Drummond (Bullet Catch, In Fidelity) feels particularly seasonally appropriate for October. Grain in the Blood is a suspenseful drama set in an isolated rural community where harvest verses and the Grain Mother have real power – psychologically speaking, at least – over the lives of its inhabitants.
The story takes place over the weekend of the harvest moon, when Isaac (Andrew Rothney) arrives home from prison, accompanied by his reticent chaperone Burt (John Michie). It also happens to be Autumn’s (Sarah Miele) twelfth birthday, which is likely to be her last unless her grandmother Sophia (Blythe Duff) and aunt Violet (Frances Thorburn) can persuade Isaac to save her life.
Though it starts as something of a psychological thriller, complete with an ominous sounding score by Michael John McCarthy (Heads Up, The Red Shed), Grain in the Blood has rather more emotional weight than one might expect. The story is rooted in a thought experiment from moral philosophy about the sacrifices people are willing to make and the relative values of different human lives. Its exploration of these philosophical underpinnings turns out to be far more complex than it first appears, as the ending, a stroke of genius, turns the rest of the play on its head.
Drummond’s script is remarkably well-structured and coherent, and the talented cast do an excellent job of bringing it to life. Miele, in particular, gives an affecting performance as the dying, but unsentimental Autumn; more than one audience member could be seen quickly wiping their eyes after her final monologue.
Not only is Grain in the Blood intelligent, philosophically intricate, and genuinely moving, it’s also quite funny. It is a stunning production that certainly provides audiences with plenty of ideas to ponder.