Review: [BLANK], Donmar Warehouse

Much to admire technically in [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse but it doesn’t quite land the emotional hit it aims for

“Have you ever felt like you were standing exactly to the left of your life?”

On the face of it, [BLANK] has all the makings of an outright success. With Alice Birch writing and Maria Aberg, this Donmar Warehouse and Clean Break co-production is a powerful indictment of how the vicissitudes of our criminal justice system hit women, and their families, the hardest by far.

And in terms of a text, it is undoubtedly an audacious undertaking, consisting of 100 scenes from which directors can craft their own narratives. Here though is where the production doesn’t quite click, Aberg trying her best to form some, any, kind of flow but the form just doesn’t allow for it.

Pushing hard at a wide range of issues – parental neglect, mental health problems, societal isolation, cheap drugs – which cycle hard into vicious circles that lap every aspect of the criminal justice system, this is brutal, often heart-breaking work. Thusitha Jayasundera and Zainab Hasan stand out in one of the few threads to recur as a mother tries to stick by her addict daughter.

Rosie Elnile’s design, expands the Donmar’s space well, using Heta Multanen’s video to deepen the context of the action. And a mama of a dinner party scene goes a huge way to making Birch’s liberal-skewering writing very memorable. But as powerfully written and acted, there’s not the variety of tone across the whole piece that could really cut through, the message – as important as it is – becomes too relentless. 

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Helen Maybanks
[BLANK] is booking at the Donmar Warehouse until 30th November

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