Backbone : Reviewed

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Backbone is the latest piece of St Andrews sell out student drama and another triumph for Joanna Alpern’s script writing. The play aims to raise awareness about blood cancer patients and the need for bone marrow donations from us all. The audience is shown the effect of this disease through the stories of patients, doctors, carers, neighbors, family members, and friends. Not being satisfied with this diversity, Alpern also self-critiques the role art has to play in combatting this issue.  Alexander Gillespie plays the role of Jack, a hopeful director faced with a choice between volunteering his talents to raise awareness and a potentially brilliant career. Sarah Pollock plays both women who offer Jack a job, highlighting the central theme that characters decisions could go either way. Jack can help this cause or take the easy option. Pollock executes both roles brilliantly and brings in the humour that was characteristic of and needed throughout this play.

With so many story lines and such a serious theme the play could soon have become overwhelming. However, Alpern’s script was a superb blend of comedy and touching moments that left the audience in tears. By the end of the play I was emotionally invested in the individual story lines that were interwoven throughout the twenty two scenes. Initially, the sudden jump between characters stories was slightly overwhelming. However, as the characterisation was developed and the interconnection between the scenes became clearer, the multiplicity of stories strengthened the play.

The relationship between a doctor in training, Jared Liebmiller, and an English student, Suzanna Swanson- Johnston, was particularly well developed. Their stories didn’t digress from the plot, but the focus was on their relationship which enabled a break from thinking about cancer. Johnston brilliantly enacted relatively trivial concerns of a student, from fashion to an affair. However, she was not dismissed as unimportant and her role highlighted the impact students can have.


The set was designed to bring us directly into these characters lives, utilising Barron chairs and beds to suggest a multitude of locations and intimacies. Spot lights were also used to good effect to isolate characters and enable us to engage directly with them. Aj Brennan developed this intimacy in his role as Oscar, a patient whose life is brought into sharp focus by his illness. The script was subtle enough to avoid soul searching stereotypes, with Brennan carefully treading the line to ensure his character was touchingly awkward and in need of affection.

The whole cast and crew should be highly commended, with particular kudos to director Katherine Weight, especially as they managed to turn the performance around within a fortnight. Make sure you see Backbone, not only because it is a brilliant piece of drama but also because of its morality. You will laugh, you will cry, you will love it!

Backbone continues at the Barron Theatre until the 4th October.

Photo courtesy of Backbone’s Facebook page.