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Review: The Writer, at Almeida Theatre

Timely play that tackles commercial and sexual exploitation features writer who wants to ‘dismantle capitalism and overturn patriarchy’

26 April, 2018 — By Howard Loxton

Romola Garai and Lara Rossi in The Writer at the Almeida. Photo: Manuel Harlan

ELLA Hickson’s new play was completed before the Harvey Weinstein story broke but it couldn’t be more apposite or more angry.

It starts with a young woman (Lara Rossi) returning to an empty theatre for a forgotten bag, making a blistering attack on the play she’s seen, on contemporary commercialised theatre and on the director (Samuel West), a man whose previous help she rejected because it was followed by a sex invitation.

She’s a writer who wants to “dismantle capitalism and overturn patriarchy” and that firmly feminist attitude drives this play.

Next it’s a Q & A session with the actors we have just seen, a director (Michael Gould) and the writer (Romola Garai, who had her own Weinstein encounter), critiquing that scene.

What follows is a sequence of episodes that could unfold that writer’s story or be seen as individual illustrations of the play’s themes. An easy-going man, overjoyed that Hollywood wants to film his partner’s play, while she won’t sign the contract fearing their changes would be like “letting strangers do plastic surgery on your unborn child”. From the wings the director introduces a real baby to stir up things.

In a poetic sequence, part played in darkness, the writer finds joy skinny-dipping in a lake with another woman and is then seen in a lesbian relationship with conflicts that echo the hetero conflicts (with explicit sex scenes in both segments).

Director Blanche McIntyre and designer Anna Fleischle emphasise the play’s metatheatricality and there are some stunning videos by Zakk Hein that add even more stimulus to a two-hour, single act show that presents commercial and sexual exploitation in parallel.

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