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
For this Donmar
production director Maria Aberg has selected
thirty and staged them in an order different from thir placement in
the printed text. (The first few are numbers 57, 54, 40, 52, 92 and
Another production might
well have an entirely different
selection and therefore be an entirely different play.
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
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 her
And then about
three-quarters of the way through comes the
longest and best-written of the scenes.
The setting is a dinner
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 ways.
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.
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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