Anatomy of a Suicide at the Royal Court Theatre
It is 1970. It is 1990. It is 2033. Carol is depressed. Anna is wounded. Bonnie is keeping it together. Sewing together this triptych of characters with elegantly invisible threads, Anatomy of a Suicide is taut, terrific theatre, not so much exploring trauma through the prism of “a butterfly effect”, but showing how we are all buffeted in different directions by the winds of fate.
Spanning half a century, we open on Carol in 1970, in the immediate aftermath of her suicide attempt, as her husband juggles the practicalities of what they should have for tea, skirting around the subject at hand. In 1990, Anna, gregarious and misguided, stumbles into an A&E, only for past transgressions to resurface there. And in 2033, Bonnie, a doctor, sews the hand of an eager young fisherwoman, looking for a date more than stitches. These three plots play out simultaneously on the sparse concrete of Alex Eales’s set, with the supporting cast juggling various roles during the different eras, in a recklessly ambitious, Cloud Atlas-esque staging by playwright Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell.
Lucky, then, that it works so well. Birch is capable of delivering coolly bruising wounds, then a jolt of anaesthetic, within the mere space of a sentence. Like an unseen puppeteer, her script allows the chorus of voices on stage to not only coexist but complement and contrast in such varied ways that this warrants a second viewing. Those who dismiss the concept as gimmicky miss its impact entirely, and fail to notice the immense subtlety in Birch’s writing. As the three generations of women are yoked together on stage, their choices are not signposted, nor are the impacts of such choices bluntly depicted years down the track. Rather, the playwright sees how the echoes of the past reverberate, but rarely diminish, and how the skeins of family life bind us long after we have tried to sever ties.
Anchored by the towering central performances of Hattie Morahan, Kate O’Flynn and Adelle Leonce, whose cadence and tempo during the undeniably exacting script are faultless, Anatomy of a Suicide is a major work. It cements Alice Birch’s status as one of the UK’s leading playwrights, and exhibits Katie Mitchell’s genius in crafting subtly powerful, humanist work. It is a knockout – go.
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Anatomy of a Suicide is at the Royal Court Theatre from 3rd June until 8th July 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch writer Alice Birch and director Kate Mitchell discuss the show here: