Preview: Knives in Hens

In brief, this play comprises: a ploughman who has a somewhat intimate relationship with his horses; a silver tongued miller as adept with wordplay as he is flour grinding; and a nameless field woman caught in the middle, caught somewhere between wordless ignorance and an aching desire to name all of the wonders of the world. Unsurprisingly this makes for compelling viewing all the more so because each character is realised by strong, competent actors who maintain the intensity and intrigue that the play demands. 

As is always the case with previews I was only allowed a brief glimpse of things to come. However, what I saw was a surprisingly polished performance, given the cast have over a week left of rehearsals, and the beginning of a story that charts a young woman’s education as she opens her eyes to a world rife with expression and knowledge. 

Jennifer Hyde’s performance as the Young Woman was particularly skilled; her portrayal convincingly switched from thoughtful contemplator of nature and its beauties to naïve and crude sceptic of modernisation. Griffith Rees’s Miller is both devilishly intelligent and worryingly sinister. It is not surprising that the Young Woman is wary of this man who clicks his tongue and frequently bursts out into fits of manic laughter. Meanwhile, foil to the wit of the Miller and the blossoming intelligence of the Young Woman is William, the ploughman. Jeremy Jones’ brooding presence fits his role perfectly. He represents an almost elemental force, one which does not question the world around it and accepts its place with forceful determination. He often refers to his wife in the third person, implying a sense of ownership, coupled with his clear yet odd preference for the company of his mares over the company of his wife. He delights in the simple things like ploughing and sex, and is keen to rebuke his wife if she appears to be asking too many questions, questions which in themselves are perfectly innocent.

Angus Hodder (director) has very adeptly brought to life David Harrower’s intriguing script. The emphasis on wordplay and vocabulary is given due weight, and Hodder has ensured that a gently simmering environment soon gives way to one of bubbling menace. Even a bizarre and somewhat unsubtle dream sequence is rendered captivating as the Miller blows flour over the Young Woman’s body. This play will most definitely lend itself to the restricted size of the Burton Taylor, adding to the ominous sense of claustrophobia. This is the last BT play of the term and it most definitely deserves to be seen. It is thought provoking without being pretentious and at the entry price of £4 is clearly going to be worth it.

4 stars

Knives in Hens is at the BT Studio, Tuesday-Saturday of 8th Week, 7.30pm

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