When you leave a theatre thinking “what was that all about?” it can mean one of two things. Either the play was full of sound and fury signifying two hours and twenty quid down the swanny or an engaging enigma which forced the audience to think and asked more questions than it answered.
Perth Theatre’s production of David Harrower’s rural love triangle Knives In Hens, first staged at the Traverse over 20 years ago, falls into the latter category in that it is bold, meticulous and impressive. Not just in terms of text and direction, but also set design and soundscape, lighting and performance.
Walled in by austere slabs more concrete grey than sparkling granite (think a motorway underpass into which is cut a circular hole symbolic of the void of a Godless world and the “black pit” village from which she hails), a young field-hand (Jessica Hardwick) goes on a journey from girlhood to womanhood and obeying to defying, from asking to knowing and wanting to needing, when she is charmed from her ploughman husband (Rhys Rusbatch) by a “bastard” miller(Michael Moreland).
Harrower’s stark text of one-word volleys and blunt pronouncements hooks the ear from the off: “I’m not a field. How’m I a field? What’s a field? Wet. Black with rain. I’m no field.” Simon Wilkinson’s acute shards of light add menace and intensity to the scalene love triangle. As does Luke Sutherland’s rumbling score.
The performances (particularly Hardwick’s whose feet are firmly planted in the soil of the here and now, her teeth dicing the words with the clinical precision with which her character’s knives butcher the hens) are impressive. Rusbatch a domineering shadow which shortens as the Young Woman’s confidence grows; Moreland an alluring flame which flickers and fades as his lover’s interest in the world ignites.
But the ultimate credit must go to director Lu Kemp who has combined the talents of cast and crew into a unified whole which as previously noted is bold, meticulous and impressive. Roll on her next production of Richard III which will run from mid-March.
Written by David Harrower
Directed by Lu Kemp