REVIEW: Knives In Hens (Donmar Warehouse) ★★★

Knives In Hens Donmar Warehouse

Yaël Farber’s interpretation of David Harrower’s absorbing and stark play follows one woman in pre-industrial Britain as she realises she can be more than an extension of her husband. The story follows the nameless ‘Young Woman’ (Judith Roddy), who spends her days and nights working for and serving her somewhat pragmatic and cold husband ‘Pony William’ (Christian Cooke). From food to sex, everything is controlled and held in the power of ‘William’.

The conflict of the piece begins when he sends his wife, dragging five bags of grain behind her to the feared and abhorred miller ‘Gilbert Horn’ (Matt Ryan). ‘Horn’ sparks in the young woman a desire to explore the depths of language, thereby leading her to question every tale of the village and the man she thought she knew.

From the outset, the atmosphere of the space was dense and charged, almost vibrating in the darkness. The set is made up of dark cobbles and worn wood with an imposing stone wheel at the centre of the stage. Soutra Gilmour and the entirety of the design team must be commended for the production’s simplistic and minimalist theme which is somehow wrapped in a bow of steampunk excellence.

The play is a three hander, and all three actors were simply excellent. Roddy’s emotional range was outstanding and there wasn’t a moment watching her that I felt compelled to look away. Cooke’s earthy and harsh ‘Pony William’ was brutal, principled and extremely flawed, balancing Matt Ryan’s reclusive character and tender energy beautifully.

The problem with this production was quite simply that it didn’t move fast enough. With dream sequences’s galore and relentlessly heavy, twisting choreography mirroring that of the stone wheel as it revolved the action felt stagnant. Practically dripping in metaphor and gritty nuance, I felt as though I was almost choking.

Although a bold and daring production with style and taste that analyses that ever curious battle of power between the sexes, I left the theatre feeling deflated and tired. Displaying excellent talent and an audacious text, but the direction and choreography simply fails to excite.

Reviewed by Jimmy Richards
Photo: Marc Brenner