Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Woman Killed With Kindness

Re-staging a classic play is a perfectly viable option. Cutting it, adapting it, throwing it around, trying on new eras, fleshing out relevant themes, finding continuity between then and now - are all things to consider when bringing an old drama to a contemporary stage. That is, after all, what art is about - finding, exploring, pursuing connection. But, sometimes a bold vision falls flat. And unfortunately Katie Mitchell's re-envisioning of Thomas Heywood's 1603 domestic drama A Woman Killed With Kindness fails to achieve any continuity. The tale of two women trapped in a male dominated world certainly still has relevancy, especially in Mitchell's 1919 suffragette setting.

The first is Anne Frankfort who has recently married John and is the virginal and virtuous woman - the perfect wife. John invites his best mate, Wendoll, to live in the house and whilst John is out on business Wendoll helps himself to his wife and Anne easily gives in. John, of course, catches them in bed together and instead of killing Anne, he sends her away, never to see her children again. She chooses self-starvation to lament her adultery, which sends her to her death bed. The other woman is Susan Mountford who's brother, Charles, prostitutes her out to their enemy, Sir Frances Acton, to whom he is deeply in debt. She refuses but in the in is forced to marry Acton.

Katie Mitchell put's these two story lines on equal par having the two household share the stage. The set is amazing with the Mountford's dilapidated Georgian home to the left and the Frankfort Arts-and-Crafts manor to the right. Throughout the piece Mitchell has introduce beautifully choreographed movements indicating the passage of time and the solitude these women share. But it felt, much like the split set, that I was experiencing two completely different texts - Heywood's text and Mitchell's vision. They were not cohesive, but rather played in cuts - as if Mitchell cut and paste chunks of Heywood's text into her contemporary, existential production. And it felt entirely dogmatic - oh look at how badly women are treated! And still are, this play is so relevant still! This is most evident by Mitchell giving the last line originally spoken by John at Anne's deathbed to Susan, who delivers it full of contempt "Here lies she whom her husband's kindness kill'd".

Although there were some beautiful, poignant and even charming moments they were not enough to lift up the whole. In the end I cared nothing for the characters, thought the acting was inconsistent, the direction even more inconsistent and felt like I was being preached at.

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