A WOMAN KILLED WITH KINDNESS
by Thomas Heywood.
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 11 September 2011.
Runs: 2hr No interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 19July.
A production overlaid with technique, but certainly individual.
Katie Mitchell can be relied upon to stir up controversy in her productions. Here she is, returning to a play she directed at Stratford-upon-Avon 20 years ago, no doubt changed by the experiments she has conducted over the last decade with video-cameras and what you might call theatre-veritè – a form of free flowing, `in the moment’ style that has garnered as many detractors as it has advocates.
Mitchell brings a similar technique – without the video-cams – to Thomas Heywood’s extraordinary Jacobean middle-class tragedy in which adultery runs side by side with financial penury within a quietly damning portrait of patriarchy. It’s a challenging two hours (and a £12 Travelex choice) but a rewarding one.
Inevitably, where Mitchell’s RSC version (in The Other Place) emphasised the story’s domestic claustrophobia, this staging is more expansive and distinctively, being Mitchell, cinematic.
Heywood’s contrasting women – Liz White’s adulterous, essentially virtuous Anne Frankford and Sandy McDade’s tremendous, principled and unmarried Susan, sister of appalling hothead Sir Charles Mountford – are juxtaposed by Mitchell on Lizzie Clachan and Vicki Mortimer’s handsome high-ceilinged country house 1919 post-World War I setting.
With its slamming doors and scurrying servants, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into an episode of Downton Abbey. But I was reminded as much of Ayckbourn’s dual narratives, and a couple of films: Robert Altman’s Gosford Park or The Shooting Party. And there is an immediacy as the story unfolds that conjures up echoes of harrowing recent-times stories of female submission and death in Iraq and Iran.
Mitchell’s highly personal vision over-emphasises the ending so that Paul Ready’s furious banishment of his wife, caught in adultery with his friend, Wendoll, seems doubly cruel. Anne’s self-starvation and Susan’s `sale’ to her brother’s debtor only adds to the sense of women not so much killed with kindness as betrayed.
Heywood is of course being heavily ironic. Mitchell stamps on the irony with heavy boots. All the same, you come out singing the sets, marvelling at the synchronised servant frenzy and only too aware of Heywood’s abiding critique of rural hierarchies and virtue transgressed.
Wendoll: Sebastian Armesto.
Sir Charles Mountford: Leo Bill.
Sandy: Nick Blakeley.
Cranwell: Louis Brooke.
Jane Trubkin: Josie Dexter.
Cicely Milkpail: Kate Duchêne.
Sir Francis Acton: Nick Fletcher.
Nicholas: Gawn Grainger.
Sheriff/Uncle Mountford: Tom Kay.
Isabel Motley: Esther McAuley.
Susan: Sandy McDade.
Jenkin: Rob Ostlere.
Roger Spigot: Leighton Pugh.
John Frankford: Paul Ready.
Malby: Hugh Sachs.
Shafton/Tidy: George Taylor.
Anne Frankford: Liz White.
Thomas: Gilbert Wynne.
Director: Katie Mitchell.
Designers: Lizzie Clachan/Vicki Mortimer.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Music: Paul Clark.
Music director: Isobel Waller-Bridge.
Digital artist: Tim Blazdell.
Movement director: Joseph Alford.
Company Voice work: Kate Godfrey.
Dance consultant: Alice Brickwood
Text editor: Lucy Kirkwood.
This production opened at the Lyttelton Theatre London 19 July 2011.
Katie Mitchell in association with the National Theatre has also directed an immersive video installation, Five Truths, featuring five inspirational European theatre directors – Stanislavski, Peter Brook, Artaud, Brecht and Grotowski – in how they might direct Ophelia’s mad scene in Hamlet. At the Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington 12July-29 Aug 2011..