Knives in Hens (4 stars)

Revival of David Harrower's 90s play tours Scotland

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Knives in Hens

Lies Pauwels’ revival for the NTS of David Harrower’s 1995 play is the very definition of ‘marmite’ theatre. From its opening moments, in which Susan Vidler as the Ploughman’s Wife, and Vicki Manderson as her alter-ego rampage around, flashing their knickers to the strains of Lulu’s ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ while the Ploughman (Duncan Anderson) attempts to wrestle them back into the wings, the production gleefully confounds expectations.

Hats off to the Belgian director for such an irreverent take on Harrower’s spare, lyrical three-hander (four here), which traces a woman’s sexual awakening and transition to literacy in a pre-industrialised landscape. Chloe Lamford’s set transports the action to a stylised carnival, the actors are painted clowns and lines are delivered through microphones. Some of Pauwels’ conclusions about the heavily eroticised sexuality of the emancipated woman are rather depressing, and aspects of the production make for uncomfortable viewing. It’s not all grotesque cavorting, though: the scene in which Vidler and the Miller (Owen Whitelaw) explore their mutual attraction is incredibly moving, while Anderson’s turn as the inarticulate Ploughman is frequently heartbreaking.

Currently touring throughout Scotland. Seen at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 7 Jun

Knives in Hens

  • 4 stars

A love triangle in a pre-industrial landscape leads to a young woman making a remarkable journey from ignorance to knowledge, mirroring the transition from rural to urban going on in the world around her. A new production of David Harrower's internationally successful play from the National Theatre of Scotland.

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