Beautiful yet undeniably brutal, Anatomy of a Suicide has all the shimmering disquiet of a half-remembered dream, a blurred imagining of people, places and things that coalesce into something deeply profound. Constructed by playwright Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell, it revels in a hugely exciting formal inventiveness (even the playtext is stunning to look at) but is also filled with a repressed emotionality that is often bruising to watch.
The play contains three narrative strands, set in different times, which are performed simultaneously on the same stage. Across the decades from the 1970s to the 2030s, the lives of Carol, Anna and Bonnie play out with strange echoes and motifs recurring until we realise how interconnected they are. Anna is Carol’s daughter, Bonnie is Anna’s and it is more than blood that they share, Birch suggests a shared legacy of severe depression.
It’s an uncomfortable (depressing, even) premise but one which pays rich dividends as it provokes in us something primal, something elemental about the truths and conventions we cling onto. The thought that motherhood isn’t always considered a blessing but a trial, the idea that we can easily outrun familial legacies, the notion that what is so, so good for ourselves isn’t necessarily so great for another. As words and actions trickle down through the ages, reverberating back again, shaping and reshaping these lives, something vastly moving occurs.
Hattie Morahan, Kate O’Flynn and Adelle Leonce are simply stunning as the three generations of women at the heart of this story, each meticulously detailed in their performance and painstakingly accurate in the different ways in which mental illness has hollowed them out. And the way in which the intergenerational echoes pop up is unbearably moving, the precision of Mitchell’s direction in complete service of fully fleshed-out storytelling producing something astonishing, especially in the agonising poignancy of one of the final tableaux. An absolute triumph.