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Knives in Hens

Perth Theatre
Five stars

Ancient voices seem to rumble through the fields at the opening of Perth Theatre’s revival of David Harrower’s astonishing play. First seen in 1995, on the face of it, it is a dark tale of a peasant woman’s awakening – to language, to her own sexuality and to the fire of life she slowly learns to articulate. While almost taking a leap into gothic thriller territory, in Lu Kemp’s starkly brooding and quasi ritualistic looking production, the play becomes a thing of transcendent beauty.

Set in an un-named ancient landscape among the monumental greyness of much reviled miller Gilbert Horn’s work-place, into this world steps Jessica Hardwick’s Young Woman. Wide-eyed and still barely literate on the back of her marriage to ploughman Pony William, she is possessed with a ferocious but still untapped intelligence and a primal hunger for knowledge.

Out of this pours a raw mix of brutal sensuality that reeks of the animalistic harshness of a daily grind based on subjugation and secret desire. Harrower’s near mono-syllabic dialogue is shot through with a physicality that puts muscle and guts onto its poetry. The vastness of Jamie Vartan’s set allows Hardwick to look up to the still nameless skies, while Luke Sutherland’s sound design seems to quake, as if the stones themselves are telling tales.

As Pony William and Gilbert Horn, Rhys Rusbatch and Michael Moreland apply different shades of steely machismo to their polar opposites. Torn between them, Hardwick embodies the Young Woman with a fearlessness that seems to come from the earth itself. In finding her voice and learning to give meaning to the world around her with every heartfelt glance, she shows how knowledge can be both liberating and dangerous in the most magnificent of emancipations.

The Herald, February 5th 2018

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