“Absolutely Not!”, this was the answer playwright David Harrower gave to one audience member who asks him if any particular literary theory influenced him when he chose to write Knives in Hens, the current offering from Landmark Productions in the beautifully renovated Smock Alley Theatre. Such a refreshing answer to a play which could have been overly intellectualised and complicated by literary discussions and theories. The writer, along with director Alan Gilsenan and cast members – Catherine Walker, Vincent Regan and Lorcan Cranitch stayed on after last night’s show to answer audience questions.
The performance beforehand was outstanding and a real treat. Knives in Hens is a rich play soaked in old Scottish peasant tales, but given a richer feel with the concentration on the “Woman” character and her relationship with her husband – Pony William. Really the play on one level is the story of the tension between the Ploughman – Pony William (Regan) and the Miller (Cranitch), but on another more emotional level, it is the story of the journey which Woman, beautifully played by Walker takes as she realises the demise of her marriage and the recognition of her inner thoughts, symbolised by her writing and her developing relationship with the Miller. I won’t give any more away, other than to say that it is an extremely touching play, and a lot of credit should be given to the cast who really give it their all to depict quite complex characters.
The thing which really struck me as soon as I walked into the theatre was of course what an amazing venue Smock Alley has become. The old stone walls and high ceiling really give it an air of history and you definetely feel like you are somewhere special when you arrive in. Gilsenan and his designer Joe Vanek, really take full advantage of the setting and set the play on a 360 stage with the audience sitting on church pews (after 2.5 hours, you will have a VERY sore derriere….bring a cushion!), thus becoming the “villagers” witnessing the events of the play. The flat rectangular stage was scattering with soil and hay to represent the fields of the Scottish highlands, with one end playing host to a stable – the Ploughman’s house and the other end hosting a Mill – the miller’s house. With both the mill and the stable being built up against the wall, the side which I was seated was adjacent, so I missed seeing any action taking place in the mill or the stable, however I totally agree with what Gilsenan said during the post performance talk in that it adds to the play as each audience member witnesses something different. Not being able to see the events but hear them left it to my own imagination to figure out what was going on – that’s my kind of theatre!!
The play itself was extremely aesthetic with music from Eleanor Dawson throughout and beautiful scenes using water, flour and soil all rooting the play very much in a natural, rural setting. The play culminates in a striking scene with Woman helping a horse deliver a foal which proved to be quite an epiphany for woman as she realises her worth in life.
It really is such a beautiful play, so well written, performed and directed backed up by a wonderful setting and stage design. It’s well worth a trip – definitely one to take a trip out into the cold and wet for! Only downside – the seats!
Until Nov. 28th
For tickets, visit the Projects Art Centre website.