Pros: A truly memorable and exhilarating production with a faultless cast.
Cons: Towards the end the play loses its punch, leaving me yearning for the same thrill of what had come before.
Ella Hickson is back at the Almeida following Oil, her last critically acclaimed production at the theatre back in 2016. This new play however, thrillingly grabs you by the jugular but may polarise opinion. It’s about a young female writer, fighting and raging against patriarchy and capitalism. Determined for her work to be seen without bending and changing to sell more tickets, she wants to reshape the world through her work.
Once the house lights go down we begin with a young woman (Lara Rossi) collecting her bag from the front stalls. She is then questioned by a man; what did you think of the show? What ensues is an honest and searing tirade: why were girls paraded in hot pants? I read the script and there was no rape scene so why did they put one in there?
It’s a timely theme and is perfectly and courageously pitched as the voice not just of the younger generation, ambitiously navigating a creative profession, but of all women who have simply had enough of asking men for permission. It’s also a compelling attack on the establishment and its obsession with profit.
Samuel West as the bemused and smirking director holds his own and tries to unnerve her, even when we realise they’ve met before. Minutes later they confusingly hug and we erupted into gratifying laughter. We’re now joined by The Director (Michael Gould), The Writer (a nervous, twitching Romola Garai) and the actors from the preceding scene for a Q & A. Without revealing too much, the audience is wrong-footed continually. Hickson creates a sense of heightened reality in which ourselves and the writer (there are no character names) are in a self conscious state of rehearsal.
The stagehands are very deliberate and visible in their building of Anna Fleischle’s set which resembles everyday domestic scenes. However, there is an underlying, unnerving sense that the writer’s life feels constantly like a play. The writer asks herself if she is real and if her boyfriend is a cartoon – or the other way around and the director is watching, lurking, judging.
As an audience member I devoured this distanced, analytical experience and it was utterly electrifying. Garai’s performance is mighty as the writer on her journey of self-discovery and search for true happiness, which leads her to experiment sexually and environmentally.
It would be ironic to disparage Hickson’s freedom of expression, given the whole nature of the play, but the final twenty minutes did leave me longing for the thrill of what had come before. Maybe we’d been challenged so much so far, that the ending paled in comparison which was a little disappointing.
However, this is groundbreaking theatre that is exhilarating and emotionally winding. The cast are flawless and the whole production, unforgettable.
Writer: Ella Hickson
Director: Blanche McIntyre
Production: Anthony Newton
Booking Until: 26 May 2018
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/the-writer/16-apr-2018-26-may-2018