Tag Archives: Kiln Theatre

“Girl on an Altar” at the Kiln Theatre

For all its emotional power and intellectual sophistication, the triumph of this retelling of Clytemnestra’s story from Marina Carr is its directness. The play is moving and stimulating but, above all, it is marvellously, beautifully, clear. Writing this skilled should not be missed.

In this story of Clytemnestra’s revenge after her husband Agamemnon sacrifices their daughter Iphigenia, every character is incredibly detailed. Each role narrates the action (like a Greek chorus) as well as soliloquising, addressing the audience, and engaging in blistering argument. Flipping effortlessly between approaches is a credit to every performer and Annabelle Comyn’s flawless direction. And the mix, applied with impeccable naturalism, lulls us towards a breathtaking finale.

It is easy to see Carr’s efforts as a welcome feminist take on the story that brings women to the fore. Eileen Walsh is stunning in the lead role, with a performance that is raw but also calculating. Walsh cannot be praised enough. But there are also strong role for her servant, Cilissa, and Cassandra, played by Kate Stanley Brennan and Nina Bowers respectively, who have their own stories fully realised.

And let’s not underestimate Carr’s achievement, as the role of alpha-male Agamemnon, and the performance from David Walmsley, are just as strong. Can the daughter-killing-tyrant really have any defence? Believe it or not, Carr plays devil’s advocate and puts forward some strong sophistry. You can almost… possibly… feel a little sorry for the hero? In a play obsessed with war, and what war does to men, Agamemnon is trapped by politics, machismo and battle lust – the latter so vividly evoked by bloody and metallic imagery that you can practically taste this play.

Clytemnestra and Agamemnon still love each other – adding further impact to the tragedy. Carr shows how grief can transcend all as Agamemnon says his wife is “moving somewhere beyond men and women”. In a pivotal scene of seduction, Walsh seems to overpower Walmsley physically as much as emotionally. It must be seen to be believed and is a credit to both performers. This is a superb text – daring and original – executed expertly. 

Until 25 June 2022

www.kilntheatre.com

Photo by  Peter Searle

"Snowflake" at the Kiln Theatre

Even if you think Christmas plays aren’t for you, Mike Bartlett might change your mind. Here’s a show that, thankfully, doesn’t expect us to switch off our brains during December. And in this look at contemporary family life there’s not a trace of the nostalgia that consumes the festive season. At the same time, Snowflake ends a long way from doom and division: Bartlett gives us a heart-warming and clear lesson that’s feelgood enough to teach any Scrooge.

Starting with a 40-minute monologue from Elliot Levey, as Andy waiting to see his daughter for the first time in three years, the first pleasure here is a brilliant performance. And maybe a cheeky streak? How much is Bartlett playing with the fact that this middle-aged, middle-class man – given such a massive role – is just the person we hear too much from in the theatre?

Depending on your age, you might find Andy patronising to the point of being insufferable…or maybe just lame. At first the generation gap is gently prodded; the humour is pretty standard. But there’s real pain behind the Dad jokes. Andy doesn’t know why he is estranged from his daughter Maya. He is still grieving for his wife. And he feels his age, comparing himself to an Anglo-Saxon dummy on display at his local museum. Bartlett’s skill is to give us a midlife crisis that’s interesting (for once) and Levey does a brilliant job with it.

It’s pretty obvious that a confrontation with Andy’s daughter will occur. But Bartlett handles this well, too, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that, with the aid of Clare Lizzimore’s sure-handed direction, not one but two younger voices get to be heard. Amber James’ character, Natalie, provides a welcome, energising hit, bringing fine challenges to Andy’s views and more humour to the piece. Ellen Robertson takes the part of Maya. Of course, in reference to that distasteful description of the millennial generation, she is the snowflake of the title – but Robertson makes Maya a formidable character and effectively ups the emotional stakes.

Again and again, Bartlett predicts the different responses his audience might have, twisting arguments and emotions to answer prejudices and predispositions. The result is a play with an agility that’s in keeping with the message that we all need to take more time to listen to one another better. And that maybe now is the time of year to do so. If that sounds pat, then clearly you really don’t like Christmas, let alone Christmas plays. Admittedly, there’s a sentimental streak to the show. But, since it’s partly Bartlett’s point that the season of good will should be extended to all – even those who voted for Brexit – it’s only fair to make allowances for a writer with Yuletide in mind.

Until 25 January 2020

www.kilntheatre.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan