Review: Knives in Hens, Donmar Warehouse

“I have no name for the thing which is in my head. It is not envy. It is more than envy. It does not scare me. I must look close enough to discover what it is”

It’s no secret that Yaël Farber creates the most immersive of worlds in her theatre but it is still a sensory thrill to allow yourself to submerge entirely into it. The growling rumble of Isabel Waller-Bridge’s score is a thrumming backdrop to the striking splendour of Soutra Gilmour’s set – all stone and earth and timber, an elemental space for the almost ritualistic unfolding of this pre-industrial play.

And if Knives in Hens seems grim and dark (Tim Lutkin lights with remarkable economy), Farber introduces a repeated motif of flashes of white – the scattering of plucked feathers, plumes of flour billowing through the air, the gentle fall of snowflakes caught just so in the light, hell even the pale sculpted muscularity of a (surely anachronistically tattooed) bare arse establishing early on the internal dynamics.

David Harrower’s Knives in Hens hasn’t been seen in London since a production in the atmospheric surroundings of the old Arcola in 2010 and it is a brutal and poetic meditation on a journey of self-awareness, of the power of language to determine one’s own identity. A young woman finds such an opportunity when her domineering husband sends her to an errand to the local miller who awakens and ignites a real curiosity in her.

Farber clearly finds a real affinity in this path to enlightenment and in Judith Roddy’s performance, there’s a bristling sense of injustice even though she’s unaware, yet. of the concept, you never once doubt the force in her. Christian Cooke also impresses as her husband, animalistic because he too knows no different and sad too, because he never will. A fascinating revival by an ever-fascinating director.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner 
Booking until 7th October

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