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Friday, 28 November 2014

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Review: Knives in Hens, at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

THEATRE serves several purposes. Primarily, we hope it entertains. But if it makes us think as well, that’s no bad thing.

Keswick Theatre tends to put its more challenging theatre in the smaller-sized auditorium of The Studio. Which, sadly, probably tells us all we need to know about ourselves and our current TV diet of easily digestible drama.

It’s also a pity because we miss out on remarkable and thought-provoking plays such as Knives In Hens by contemporary Scottish playwright David Harrower.

He wrote it in 1995 from a sense of rage at the irrelevant work he saw being put on the stage at that time – and anger at having been told “what makes a good play!”

Knives In Hens certainly tears up all the rule books – and there’s more than a dash of anger as the three characters interact on a minimal but atmospheric stage.

The setting is simply described as ‘rural’ and at first you think it might be medieval Britain or perhaps some middle European country.

But it could equally be set in the future or on another world. It doesn’t matter. What Harrower does – and director Jez Pike expands on this brilliantly – is put the trio in a setting which makes you think more carefully about how they are behaving and what they have to say.

Their language is staccato but accessible and the simple love-triangle plot allows Harrower to concentrate on more important things.

Actors Helen MacFarlance, Adam O’Brian and Liam Smith give a faultless performance, squeezing every last nuance from the sizzling script.

They’re helped by the imaginative set designed by Thomasin Marshall. This is a play which makes you say a small prayer of thanks for the gift of theatre.

The idea that without drama like this, we might have to stay at home and watch Big Brother, Dancing on Ice or Loose Women all the time is just too horrible to contemplate.

Knives in Hens runs until February 18.

Tickets from the box office on 017687 74411 or online at www.theatrebythelake.co.uk.

Alan Cleaver

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