The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Theatre Autumn 2019
[BLANK} is a doubly
collaborative work. It is the latest in a string of co-productions between
the Donmar Theatre and Clean Break, the theatre company giving voice to
women currently or formerly in prison. And it is written to be
collaborative in construction.
Playwright Alice Birch has
written one hundred scenes, inviting any directors to choose as many as
they want from among them and perform them in any order they choose.
For this Donmar production
director Maria Aberg has selected thirty and staged them in an order
different from their placement in the printed text. (The first few are
numbers 57, 54, 40, 52, 92 and so on.)
Another production might well
have an entirely different selection and therefore be an entirely
Almost all of the scenes in
this selection deal with women on or near the criminal fringes of society.
A drug addict breaks into her
mother's home demanding money. A social worker checks that a streetwalker
is all right. A young mother driven mad by exhaustion confesses to killing
her children. An abused woman is turned away from an overfull shelter.
Unsurprisingly most of the
scenes have a dark tone, a noteworthy exception being a foster mother (or
keeper of a care home) recalling her success stories.
A separate pattern also
arises in this selection, possibly reflecting the choices of Maria Aberg
more than the playwright, as many of the scenes show conflicts between
mothers and adult daughters, one or the other blaming the other for all
And then about three-quarters
of the way through comes the longest and best-written of the scenes.
The setting is a dinner party
of friends, all professional women who work in one way or another with the
sorts of women featured in the other scenes – a social worker, a lawyer, a
cop, a psychologist, and so on.
While sharing the white wine,
hummus and cocaine they congratulate themselves on being not only
Politically Correct but demonstrably Good People who do Good Works,
support Good Causes and generally think, act and behave in all the right
And then a newcomer to the
group rips into them, calling them a bunch of smug, privileged, protected,
self-satisfied, self-deluding, ineffectual and irrelevant liberal wankers.
She's right, of course, and
what is even more striking than her demolition of them is our inescapable
realisation that the whole play is written and produced from the same safe
and easy self-congratulatory liberal point of view.
And then the play goes on for
another few scenes as if nothing had happened.
It is hard to decide whether
to be impressed by Alice Birch's startling flash of self-awareness or to
be puzzled by the fact that it seems to have no effect.
At its best [BLANK] is a collage of individual moments that don't really hang together. At its worst it seems to undercut itself completely.
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