Written by Matthew Bulgo
Direction & Choreography by Jonnie Riordan and Jess Williams
Death, politics, sex, famine, puppets, identity, metamorphosis, puppets, circuses, musicals, cost-of-living, immigration, and puppets. The Festival Fringe is a lot.
And sometimes – the humbleness of uplifting stories with spectacular visuals and harmonies is precisely the tonic we need to breathe. Where the stakes aren’t the end of the world, but of one family’s harmony – a universally told tale of grief, healing, and legacy, regardless of if you hate them or adore them.
That’s exactly what Matthew Bulgo’s Blood Harmony is. A family-orientated story of loss, not only of (loss of) life but the bond of three sisters and their attempt to reforge the most meaningful connections we are capable of. After losing their mum, three sisters return to the family home to go through the motions of sorting the house – and more importantly locating the will. It’s pleasant to see that the animosity between them is remarkably authentic, and in truth mundane. Melodrama has a place, but there are no significant issues between them, only more relatable issues of envy, or feeling left behind by another’s a success.
Where on paper the characterisation is thin; the screw-up, the high-strung, and the one left behind – Keshini Misha, Eve de Leon Allen and Phillipa Hogg draw such breath and life out of their respective characters that it lifts these initial blank slates into fully dimensional women with lives, weaknesses, and an overwhelming adoration for their family. The one left behind, the youngest, largely left to look after their ailing mother, Eve de Leon Allen carries a tremendous weight in her movements, a bubbling cauldron of emotional turmoil ready to overflow, needing to communicate with her sisters the hurt she feels.
While Hogg and Misha have a touch more fun with their parts, largely more comedic as the successful sister, and the ‘let down’ couch surfing and awaiting results which could change her life. Jonnie Riordan and Jess Williams balance character and movement well, Blood Harmony never feels a drag despite its length, every character is given time to naturally grow and, fulfilling their arc and in turn complete the wider tale.
So, one must wonder, we’ve looked over the ‘harmony’ of the family – what about the vocals?
Where the musicality and scoring do a far superior duty than the lyrics themselves, quite often numbers are word intense, but there remains a gorgeous melody that carries throughout – especially when paired with the pulsating magic of Charly Dunford’s lighting. Save for a few standout numbers, and the production’s ‘key’ song, which features brief reprises throughout. All three of the cast do perform well, and without irony, harmonise beautifully in ensemble numbers. Misha has the more unique solo pieces, with a touch more depth given to her character than her co-stars.
It’s refreshing to watch something where the entire world isn’t at stake. Or designed to right the wrongs of the world. The necessity for family-based stories, contained within a single household is an oft-forgotten, but important, one. Loss is the major player here, not only in death but in the drifting apart of siblings, of the fractured connections we need to hold onto. Blood Harmony is a touching, beautiful musical on grief, but also its sister emotion of legacy. An engaging production, which will sing softly to audiences, and likely have them leaving with their hands ready to make a call to relatives, friends, and those who may now be strangers.
A sentimental and authentic tonic
Blood Harmony runs at The Traverse Theatre until August 28th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.