by David Eldridge.

Almeida Theatre Almeida Street Islington N1 1TA To 30 April 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm & 13 April 2.30pm. (No performance 25 April).
Runs: 2hr 40min One interval.

TICKETS 020 7359 4404 (24 hr).
Review: Carole Woddis 28 March.

Not perfect, but quietly shattering.
I wouldn’t want to repeat myself but there’s no disputing the similarities between the last play I reviewed here at the Almeida – the stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly – and David Eldridge’s latest, The Knot of the Heart. And come to think of it, at this very theatre, Eldridge’s award-winning adaptation of Festen, another investigation into familial disorder.

As with Through a Glass Darkly, we are in the bosom of a middle class family where once again a young woman is on the brink of self destruction. And once again, were R D Laing alive and well, he would be savouring Eldridge’s vision. For Laing provocatively declared that the responsibility for many psychoses starts in the nuclear family. Larkin’s `they fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to but they do’ was never so true as in this portrait of over-protective mother love as the root of Lucy, a promising children’s tv presenter’s slide into heroin addiction.

Margot Leicester’s Barbara isn’t a bad mother. On the contrary, she gives Lucy everything a daughter could require, in excess. The one thing she can’t do is say `no’ or be honest. For Barbara is in denial and an addict herself, to alcohol.
Eldridge charts their co-dependency with harrowing precision, a journey one senses Almeida audiences have a harder time stomaching than, say, a Royal Court one. Even more wince-making than the syringes however is Barbara’s apparent unawareness after Lucy’s spell in rehab of the damage her continuing caring, smothering love creates.

Knot the Heart isn’t perfect. Barbara’s denial, Lucy’s redemption and family exposés frequently defy credulity. Nonetheless, Michael Attenborough directing it as if in continuous close-up draws extraordinary performances from his cast led by Lisa Dillon pitiful child-woman Lucy, battling to be free and adult and Leicester one of our great under-rated dramatic actors. With Sophie Stanton, sensitively watchful as the Crisis Centre care worker, Abigail Cruttenden as Lucy’s unappreciated sister, Angela and Kieran Bew, wonderfully versatile as various men in their lives, this is a quietly shattering exploration of the black hole into which emotional need can lead.

Lucy: Lisa Dillon.
Barbara: Margot Leicester.
Angela: Abigail Cruttenden.
The Men: Kieran Bew.
Marina: Sophie Stanton.

Director: Michael Attenborough.
Designer: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound/Music: Dan Jones.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Gbemisola Ikumelo.

World premiere of The Knot of the Heart at the Almeida Theatre, London 10 March 2011.
Thanks to Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and Maria Robinson and Eileen Doyle of City Roads Crisis Centre for invaluable help and support.

2011-04-05 08:56:41

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