The Writer at the Almeida Theatre
Being sincerely angry, being earnest in the pursuit – and defence – of a higher kind of creative calling, takes guts. In doing so, you open yourself up to sneers and sniggers, people’s willingness to dismiss that which they might find uncomfortable. Ella Hickson has such courage in spades: The Writer is not afraid to be difficult, radical and unashamedly clever, each line like a whip crack lacerating its contemporaries.
It’s hard to know how much to say about the narrative; much of the joy comes in the way it constantly upends whatever you’ve just watched in the previous scene. But it’s spoiler-free to divulge that there’s a playwright, and a director, and boyfriends and girlfriends, and that it explores all the insidious ways women who create art are undermined.
Hickson places her writer in a clear capitalist, patriarchal context – though to call it a context is bit disingenuous given that it’s just, you know, the world we live in. From here the play tears through domestic dynamics, queer relationships, the role of money in theatre and the allowances made for male artists that aren’t extended to their female counterparts – among myriad other discussions.
One can imagine those that will take against the piece lobbying accusations of artistic solipsism. Yet, though there is a smidge of truth in those claims, it’s not like the drama is unaware of them; despite taking aim at a lot of different targets, there’s nothing the production is more combative with than itself.
A formal shape-shifter made from layer upon layer of meta playfulness, The Writer is almost self-reviewing, anticipating the bevy of trite opinions that could be trotted out in response to the ideas it raises. This very aspect of the play ends up providing an example of the daily grind women face – the repeated justifications, explanations and emotional labour required to get anything done.
Hickson’s latest theatrical work feels like a rebuke to so many things. But perhaps most interestingly, it seems to stand against the Almeida of the last few years. The drama quite defiantly places itself in opposition to its home’s West End-friendly parade of well-received, largely middle-class, almost entirely white male shows – while landing a more direct hit against Rupert Goold’s Richard III and its queasy addition of a rape scene.
The density of the script means it can be easy to overlook the other truly excellent aspects of the production. Director Blanche McIntrye lends the play a stripped back clarity, while allowing space for gorgeous flourishes from light and video designers Richard Howell and Zakk Hein. And Romola Garai burns bright as the titular character, drawing together The Writer’s intellectual ferocity with a nuanced, witty, rage-filled performance.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Writer is at from 14th April until 26th May 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.