Tag Archives: Judith Roddy

“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

“The Plough And The Stars” at the National Theatre

There are no surprises here. Howard Davies’ new production, co-directed with Jeremy Herrin, is the quality affair you would expect from the veteran director. Utilising the National Theatre’s expert stage management, and with a typical respect for a classic text, this show drips class.

It’s a forgivable irony that Sean O’Casey’s play about the Irish Easter rising of 1916, which focuses so much on the lives of the poor, should receive such a luxurious treatment. Vicki Mortimer’s set appears impressively expensive – it takes a lot of money to look that cheap – while detail and care run through the whole show.

Stephen Kennedy
Stephen Kennedy

With a steely confidence, Davies and Herrin take us deep into the lives of those living in a Dublin tenement house. Flynn and Covey (Lloyd Hutchinson and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) argue over politics while an agnostic drunk, made loveable by Stephen Kennedy, looks on. A good deal of humour is injected (I’m not quite sure O’Casey expected so many laughs at socialism) with the drama coming from the more serious Jack Clitheroe, portrayed convincingly by Fionn Walton, the one man willing to fight, despite his wife’s protestations.

Justine Mitchell and Josie Walker
Justine Mitchell and Josie Walker

The action doesn’t get going until the second half but when fighting starts the trauma of the battle is intense. Suffering focuses on the women and it’s the actresses who steal this show. Two great renditions of battle-axe neighbours come from Justine Mitchell and Josie Walker. On opposing sides of the struggle, their sniping is full of wit, but when care for one another creeps out it’s genuine and moving. As Clitheroe’s pregnant wife, Nora, Judith Roddy has a traumatic role; driven “mad with terror”, her whole body becomes rigid in the play’s relentless finale.

Added to these fine performances is a double achievement on the part of this production. The history and its frustrating complexity are clear; O’Casey presents many arguing sides and the directors do this justice. Also understood is the aim of showing the effects of violence on the most vulnerable, making the piece strikingly relevant. With no sense of the contrived – just theatrical power – this is a grade-A show.

Until 22 October 2016

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Johan Persson