Tag Archives: David Harrower

“Knives in Hens” at the Donmar Warehouse

This revival of David Harrower’s 1996 play is a trip to the Middle Ages that’s full of sex and ideas. There are just three characters – a ploughman, his wife and a miller – yet it goes beyond a dangerous love triangle to evoke an entire society beset by ignorance and misogyny. More impressive, still, is the precision and insight applied to the struggle to break away from the primitive and embrace investigation and individuality.

This is an impressive piece of writing, with the distinctive dialogue rooted in imagined lives very different from our own. Christian Cooke plays the labouring farmer with breath-taking virility – all that time in a field has clearly done him good – but he also succeeds in expressing an anxiety about his hold on power and his control over the woman selected as a wife. In this role, Judith Roddy gives a strong performance as a person full of contradictions, while appreciating Harrower’s articulation of an ‘internal’ life distinct from modern conceptions. Naming objects is an issue in this society, religion plays a distinct role, and all the while a new scientific view is blossoming. Embodying these conflicts is Matt Ryan’s miller, a character set aside from the village by his semi-technical work. His sense of isolation creates the emotional heart of the play.

Director Yaël Ferber presents the strange eroticism of the work well, showing a clear appreciation of the mediaeval milieu and adding some vivid imagery to match the poetry of the piece. There are some fussy touches (a little too much rolling around and playing with flour), but her skills are a good match for the text. Take the tension injected into a scene where our heroine shows a fear of the written word. Breaking with superstition is part of her attraction to the miller. There is a yearning for a new way of understanding the self and the substance of the world. Suggesting all this with an undertow of violence is a fine achievement on Roddy’s part, making this a miller’s mistress’s tale to be proud of.

Until 7 October 2017

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photo by Marc Brenner