Review – A Woman Killed with Kindness – National Theater

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Walking out of the National after Tuesday night’s preview of A Woman Killed with Kindness, one question was foremost in my mind: what the hell did director Katie Mitchell think she was doing? Why revive this weak member of the revenge-tragedy era (1607) of plays in the first place, and why stage it so the cast spend a quarter of their time talking to the set and another quarter making so much noise moving furniture and dishware that the dialogue is incomprehensible? Sat in row Q of the stalls, I could see all of the elaborately filled stage (two houses, two stories each, two staircases, and more doors than an Escher print), but for the first ten minutes about all I heard was “bride,” “cut the cake,” and “one thousand pounds” (in close proximity to the words “hawk” and “hounds”). Then the pretty lady in white (Anne Frankford, Liz White) was led upstairs by her husband (John Frankford, Paul Ready), to shortly come down limping and clutching her bloody crotch. Good God. I might have asked where we were going, but frankly I didn’t understand how we’d even got to where we were.

As a positive note, my inability to hear so much of the dialogue (a problem I heard other people discussing as they left the Lyttleton) meant that I was in a state of dramatic tension throughout, as everything I did see happening in this 2:10 (no interval) production was done in a state of isolation that left me completely unable to guess what was going to happen next. It was rather like having one of those amnesia problems that leaves your short term memory destroyed. The brother sent to jail (Sir Charles Mountford, Leo Bill), would he come back? His sister, depressed and prone to pulling a rifle on housebreakers (Susan, Sandy McDade), what was her motivation in life in general? Who was the guy who had the crush on her? Who was the guy who kept lending her brother money? Were they the same person? What did they really have in common with the developing menage a trois next door?

The one point of sanity in this whole show was Frankford’s footman (Nicholas, Gawn Grainger), who invariably spoke clearly enough that I could hear him all the way in the back of the stalls. It was a wonderful example of the skill a truly experienced actor brings to the stage. To make it better, he seemed to get all of the good lines, including the one during the card game, where he suggests the adulterous couple (and the cuckolded husband) play “between the sheets” (“knave out of doors” in the original script). This whole scene was a riot of double entendre, with no need to resort to the crude hip-thrusting that’s made many a Shakespearean play fall flat (ba dum tish) in my eyes. I considered it the highlight of the play, far better than the maudlin death scene that ended the show, which was made even more ridiculous by a phone going off playing “The Grenadier’s March” about two minutes before the last breath was drawn. People in the audience laughed when “the woman”‘s head fell; I can’t help but think it was in grateful relief for us, too, being set free of our imprisonment. This show was the low point of the year so far for me, and I only stayed through to the end so I could report back definitively on whether or not it redeemed itself at the end. In short: no. Avoid at all costs. Accept a loss on the ticket if you can’t return it; your time must be more precious than this.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, July 12th, 2011. It officially opens July 19th. You have been warned. The National website describes this play as “fast-moving, frightening and erotic.” The first, at least, is true, but by 40 minutes in you will feel like the clock has stopped and it’s all just one long never ending string of unconnected scenes until you can run out of the theater into the night. For a deliciously cutting analysis of it all, may I recommend the West End Whinger’s mocu-interview review.)

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14 Responses to “Review – A Woman Killed with Kindness – National Theater”

  1. Fizzy Says:

    After enduring this marathon last night (Wednesday 13th) Webcowgirl’s review encapsulates everything we felt about what we’d just seen. When leaving, it was hard to sum up. We felt we’d witnessed a story of something awful, but obsured by it’s frentic busyness it left us somewhat empty. In the back of the balcony, I could hear most of the dialogue, just could not make head nor tail of what was going on. My highlight, however, was in the 40 minutes when time stood still; a cracking gunshot snapped my drooping eyelids awake and got me back on the jolting rollercoaster along with the rest of the audience.
    After all this, and having not read the credits for the creative team before, I was sat there thinking, “gosh, this all feels a bit Katie Mitchell” and lo and behold, it’s hers.

  2. Brezzer Says:

    What is the point of reviewing a preview?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      What is the point of reviewing anything, really? And for those people who are thinking aboutgoing, they want info on it ASAP. Doubt it will change much in a few days.

  3. MJB Says:

    I absolutely agree with the above two reviews. I went last night (free tickets that someone could not use – thankfully). It was dreadful and what made it worse was the fact that I dragged a friend along who was really excited at the prospect of going to the theatre for the first time in ages.

    I previously thought that the dreaded Fram (also staged by the National) was the worst play I had ever seen but this tops it my miles.

    Couldn’t hear, couldn’t understand a thing that was going on and after the first twenty minutes I didn’t care what happened to any of them. Bad bad bad. Avoid like the plague.

  4. tizzy Says:

    Hear, hear… couldn’t hear a thing from the circle and so dark i wasn’t sure who was who.. looked like a homage to Pickford’s

  5. Lisa J Says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Glad it wasn’t just us as my husbandand I were feeling quite aggrieved as we left the theatre. Worst play we have seen in 30 years. Waste of precious time and money.

  6. shyama perera Says:

    I’m seeing this next week and was really looking forward to it. I wonder if Katie Mitchell can ever top The Waves? Everything she has done since is either derivative of her own style, if that’s possible, or too intent on mood and not enough on substance. Will report back…

  7. kodaira Says:

    Friday night – end of a long week, but happy after a glass of red and some Spanish food at Tate Modern. The set seemed to dwarf the piece, and like others I was left wondering who several characters were (though I had read up in advance, aware of my possible confusion). Couldn’t see my watch face in the dark – I wondered when the interval would arrive. It wasn’t coming – quite a good thing, as I think the audience would have been seriously depleted come the second half. I totally believe in sticking with so called difficult works. Everything can’t be a belly laugh a la Two Govnors, but this was testing. 6/10

  8. Gilbert O'Brien Says:

    A play killed by Katie Mitchell. Much of what I thought has been expressed in the reviews above — even the notion that the production is an homage to Pickfords. What an angry-making evening. What a waste. What an expensive tribute to the ego of Ms Mitchell. Why bother with taking on the responsibility of presenting a text if you don’t have any respect for it? Why employ actors if you can’t be bothered to light them properly? It is a wonderful play, poorly treated, and this production has no focus, no clear story-telling, and no clarity. It is indeed 25% action/dance, people walking backwards up stairs, women being moved like furniture (how daring! how original!). Rubbish rubbish rubbish. I have not seen this play since last produced at the National about 40 years ago with Joan Plowright in the title part, and will probably not see it done again in my lifetime, so my memories will be tarnished with this crap.

  9. RevStan Says:

    Totally agree with what you say. I was on Row D really had to concentrate to hear chunks of what was being said from there.
    I see quite a few plays, as you know, of all different shapes, sizes and budget. A bad play at a small, no-budget theatre is almost forgivable but the National, with all the talent, resources and skills it has at its finger tips has no excuse. I think it is that which made me most angry about it.

  10. Nightingam Says:

    I was pleased to see it and had no problem in seeing or hearing what was going on. Sounds like the previous reviewers didn’t read the synopsis beforehand – basic rule for this sort of play. Thought the servants were very good and nice to see the man from Benidorm.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      I disagree about needing to read the synopsis – plays are normally completely understandable without and to read it does kill your dramatic suspense. Glad you enjoyed it though.

  11. David Brown Says:

    This is an utterly vacuous play which is entirely amorphous, with no peaks and troughs. The best bit is when the final curtain falls. The poor actors struggle to make sense of it, but despite their best efforts and much frenetic shrieking at one another and the audience, they do not succeed. If ever a production deserved sur-titles just to explain where the action is taking part and who’s who in the production on either side of the slit stage, this is it. Go and see for yourself what a disaster it is. When judging plays you need a base-line and this production provides it.

  12. wilywerewarbler Says:

    I saw it tonight having no foreknowledge of the plot, characters or having read or heard of any reviews.
    I was very impressed with the set but it was downhill all the way after that. I read the synopsis in the programme when I got home and I still can’t understand it.
    The programme notes talk about this play being an early example of drama about ordinary people. Yea sure, ordinary people who live in the same grand house for centuries and employ huntsman amongst their many servants; who borrow what must be, in today’s money, millions….
    Half the time the actors seemed to be delivering their lines upstage but the lines I caught hardly seemed worth saying anyway. To me, there were no memorable lines. The verse seemed somewhat clumsy.
    Strange under lighting made it difficult to see the actors. It was only when I got home I realized that Paul Ready, an actor I have utmost respect for, was in it.
    There also seemed to be some very elaborate and long-winded set changes dealing with minutiae like plates and vases of flowers. I’m sure there was some good reason for them but too obscure for me.
    I was in the middle of row T. I’ve got a ticket to go and see it again, in a month, at the side of row C. It might be a different experience?
    At least it made me re-appreciate how lucky we are to have Shakespeare and Nicholas Hytner.

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