Utterly captivating revival of masterpiece Knives In Hens (5 stars)

Utterly captivating revival of masterpiece Knives In Hens

Jessica Hardwick as Young Woman / credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Superb direction and a dazzling lead performance in Perth Theatre's revival of David Harrower's brittle beautiful play

David Harrower's brittle, beautiful play Knives In Hens, which premiered at the Traverse Theatre in 1995, is widely regarded as a masterpiece, and justifiably so. Its unvarnished language is at once coarse and moving.

Lu Kemp's superb direction in this brand new revival lets the words linger in the air like a perfume, lending them weight, by bringing an unhurried pace to the performance which is utterly captivating.

Young Woman (Jessica Hardwick in what may be her most dazzling performance yet) is an unnamed god fearing field hand, locked to both land and feral husband, the plough-man Pony William, (Rhys Rusbatch) but once their staccato insults subside, she becomes drawn to miller Gilbert Horn (Michael Moreland) whose words suggest an interior life. Horn will not break her like a foal, but rather acknowledge her humanity: thus begins a sexual and intellectual awakening .

The symbolism of seeds of doubt being sown, and the enduring nature of language and earth are always implied; never overplayed. Gorgeously lit by Simon Wilkinson, Jamie Vartan's set suggests a chasm at the edge of the world, where Young Woman is caught between labour and liberation.

As Luke Sutherland's monolithic hum rises to a scream, there is a sense of timelessness-as she transcends her environment, so Knives exists entirety out of time and place. Sparse, profound and sensual.

Perth Theatre, until Sat 17 Feb.

Knives In Hens

Set in a God-fearing, pre-industrial rural community, a young woman comes to terms with old grudges and factions, an unexpected betrayal and a growing awareness of her place in the world. Written by David Harrower.