A di­rect hit

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment -

Lyt­tel­ton, Na­tional Theatre, Lon­don

KATIE MITCHELL is pos­si­bly the only theatre di­rec­tor in this coun­try whose pro­duc­tions are so ob­vi­ously hers, you do not have to read the pro­gramme to see who di­rected them.

Her ver­sion of Thomas Hey­wood’s 1607 tragedy con­tains many Mitchell ob­ses­sions: the con­di­tion of women in male-dom­i­nated so­ci­eties; how a play moves through time; and what hap­pens to the char­ac­ters in the un­writ­ten sec­tions of a work, be­tween the scenes.

Hey­wood’s story con­cerns two wealthy house­holds. In one, a mar­riage ends in rage when the hus­band (Paul Ready) dis­cov­ers that his wife (Liz White) has been un­faith­ful with his house-guest. In the other, the mas­ter (Leo Bill) is jailed, first for mur­der, then for un­paid debts, leav­ing his reclu­sive sis­ter Su­san (Sandy McDade) at the mercy of her brother’s en­emy.

The play is pop­u­lated by well-to-do mid­dle-classes rather than roy­alty, which was rare enough for the time in which Hey­wood wrote it. But his do­mes­tic nat­u­ral­ism was down­right rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Rather than the height­ened drama of state af­fairs, he serves up gos­sip­ing ser­vants and bed­room in­ti­ma­cies, al­though here they take place in the draw­ing room.

Mitchell is (al­most) no less rev­o­lu­tion­ary. The mood and the me­chan­ics of the show are re­vealed in scene changes. Snap vari­a­tions in Jon Clark’s warmto-win­try light­ing her­ald pas­sages of phys­i­cal theatre dur­ing which, on more than one oc­ca­sion, time is mes­mer­i­cally re­versed when a woman climbs a stair­case back­wards.

And when stage­hands move the pro­tag­o­nists like man­nequins around the ex­quis­ite in­te­ri­ors, the sense is of a kind of tes­ti­mony be­ing acted out, as if a crime had been com­mit­ted and this play was Ex­hibit A.

These tech­niques in­vite judge­ment on the be­hav­iour of men in a way that, un­der Mitchell’s direc­tion, fore­shad­ows Ib­sen’s A Doll’s House. But whereas Ib­sen’s Nora gets to leave home and slam the door on her hus­band, when Hey­wood’s Su­san re­peat­edly bolts for the front door she is held back each time by the man who wants to marry her and the brother who sells her to him to set­tle his debts. It is a take on the play that wrings ev­ery last drop of irony out the ti­tle.

Sure, as is usual with Mitchell, the vi­sion of­fered is prob­a­bly much more that of the di­rec­tor than the writer – some­thing that has caused com­plaints about her past pro­duc­tions. But it would be hard to find a more in­ven­tive and en­gross­ing evening. ( Tel: 020 7452 3000)

PHOTO:STEPHEN CUMMISKEY

Mar­riage ups and downs: Paul Ready and Liz White

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