Review: The Writer – Hiive

Since the Almeida Theatre provides tantalisingly little information about The
Writer’s plot, one wonders what tricks lie up its sleeve when embarking upon
this two-hour, no-interval and no-readmissions theatrical journey.

Be warned: there are tricks aplenty. Ella Hickson’s wildly ambitious play, which
follows a female writer trying to navigate her way through a perplexing
patriarchal system, is host to twists, turns and so much fourth wall breaking that
it will leave you itching to interrogate the very essence of art.

We start with two characters: a student (Lara Rossi) and a director (Samuel
West). The student has just seen the director’s play, and has a lot to say about it.
Eloquently attacking an industry which so persistently sees middle-aged, middle
class (but more crucially, male and white) directors and producers exert their
professional power over younger women with career aspirations, the student’s
argument is visceral and tangible: she is the voice of a generation. Of course, the
director purports to like her anger because it is ‘zeitgeisty’, and misses the point
entirely.

Just as it’s all ticking along nicely, the scene ends abruptly and the actors hug.
Another ‘director’, played by Michael Gould, and Romola Garai as the Writer
herself enter the stage and sit down with the other actors, before engaging in an
apparent Q&A with the theatre audience about what we have just witnessed. It is
confusing to say the least, and the rest of the play continues in this complex
meta-narrative vein.

But at the point where you think it has descended into the chaos of a pretentious
series of art school performances, the play pulls itself together and unites these
seemingly disorientating plot points. Garai is captivating as the Writer, whose
personal and professional struggles we follow across the course of the play, and
knits together its vast scope of themes.

The Writer is a postmodern triumph: innovative and engaging in both its form
and plot, it is hard to recall another play which has explored Sapphic sex, artistic
commitment and systemic prejudice in such a nuanced way. At one point, Gould’s
director refers to the Writer’s work-in-progress as an ‘intellectual exercise’, and
Hickson’s piece certainly feels like that. Thrillingly pertinent in more ways than
one, this play is proof that the institution of theatre is taking risks – and that
female writers and directors are well on their way to stomping through that
glass ceiling.

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