KNIVES IN HENS
by David Harrower.
Theatre By The Lake Studio To 18 February 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 February.
Strong revival of a strong, remorseless, work.
A sharp stab of a play, David Harrower’s 1995 debut covers ground other had treated more languidly. It’s a three-cornered affair, the woman with husband and gradually emerging lover; a story of education replacing subjugation and superstition with knowledge and understanding; and a voyage of discovery into the individual consciousness chiselled from unreflective existence within local society.
The title’s used metaphorically, though the Young Woman does travel from killing poultry to stabbing meaning into the words she uses. And, however improbably, the difference between simile and metaphor forms the opening talk between her and her farmer husband, in whichever small Scottish community they live, during whichever century.
Features already aggressively defensive, Helen Macfarlane’s Young Woman – the central character, though significantly the one never named (she has to find her sense of identity) – drags the farm’s grain effortfully to the Miller her husband’s warned her about as an enemy. There develops a relationship, in which she turns in terms possibly as phallic as cerebral, from fear to respect for the pen with which he writes, as for the books her possesses. And for him.
However familiar the story elements, Harrower makes them fresh in his terse style. Love, or anything approaching it, is forced from relationships and never spoken – perhaps not fully realised. Amid the jagged edge of the rough-cut dialogue even the osiers on Thomasin Marshall’s plain wooden set seem over-decorative. This is a hard land yielding as little as the hard-set minds.
Under the ground lie the equally tough foundations of existence. Grain is poured underneath to be milled by the sometimes overbearing sound Maura Guthrie creates for the mill-wheel. And, in direct parallel with Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, the opened panel of wood where husband Pony William goes fishing becomes the occasion of sudden darting violence.
Jez Pike’s production has the precise measure of this tough, intense play, where the tough originality of treatment creates the world and characters peculiarly vividly. It’s well-performed, but Macfarlane’s outstanding in showing her character’s hard-won development into an individual facing a future as challenging as Nora’s when she leaves Ibsen’s Doll’s House.
Young Woman: Helen Macfarlane.
Pony William: Adam O’Brian.
Gilbert Horn: Liam Smith.
Director: Jez Pike.
Designer: Thomasin Marshall.
Lighting: Sanne Noppen.
Sound: Maura Guthrie.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Peter Macqueen.