The chance to tackle strong, challenging female roles in an important New Zealand play has proved inspirational for the cast of Blood of the Lamb
First produced in 1980, Bruce Mason’s Blood of the Lamb remains strikingly topical in its exploration of gender identity in an unusual family.
Directed by Richard Huber, the play features Helen Fearnley (Henry), Toni White (Eliza), and Anna Dawes (Victoria), who are relishing the chance to tackle a play that is “not the norm”.
“It is not often that you get an all-female play, and one with such strong characters,” White said.
For Fearnley, taking on the role of Henry – whose shift in gender identity is at the play’s heart – has been her most difficult theatrical challenge to date.
“It is a very wordy role, with a lot of Maori and Italian words and literary references woven through it, so it is very challenging, ” Fearnley said.
“Its themes of gender fluidity and wanting to be known for who you are make it very topical.”
Huber’s decision to stage the play in traverse [a central stage with the audience along both sides] requires adaptability from both cast and audience, but emphasises the Globe’s nature as a theatre in a house.
“It also brings a physical dimension to the back-and-forth of the dialogues, which I think is interesting,” Huber said.
The other major element of Blood of the Lamb is the music of Mozart, and in particular the music of opera Cosi Fan Tutti, beloved of both Henry and Eliza.
“For Henry, Mozart is the music of his soul and represents his determination to have happiness and soulfulness in his life after traumatic early experiences,” Huber said.
At times the actors sing snatches of Mozart tunes, and this production adds an extra voice in the form of soprano Jess Little.
“The presence of Jess is both an interpretive device and a means of bringing an operatic sound to the performance.”
Part of Arts Festival Dunedin, Blood of the Lambopens tonight at the Globe Theatre and continues until September 29.