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Review Round-Ups

Review Round-up: Eldridge Wins Hearts at Almeida

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David Eldridge’s new play, The Knot of the Heart, centring on the issue of addiction, premiered at the Almeida Theatre last week (17 March 2011, previews from 10 March), starring Abigail Cruttenden, Margot Leicester and Lisa Dillon.

Dillon plays Lucy, whose privileged life and burgeoning career in television, is slipping away as her social drug habit turns into a serious addiction and she learns that the support of her family doesn’t come without a price.

Eldridge’s other plays include Summer Begins, Market Boy, Falling, M.A.D and the Whatsonstage.com Award-winning Under the Blue Sky and Festen, the screen-to-stage adaptation which started life at the Almeida in 2005 prior to West End and Broadway transfers.

The Knot of the Heart, which is directed by Almeida artistic director Michael Attenborough, continues until 30 April.

Helena Rampley

"The Knot of the Heart provides us with a rare thing: a woman-led play with three complex, if hysterical, female characters. Lisa Dillon gives a charged performance as Lucy, the children's TV presenter whose career goes awry … Peter McKintosh's sleek design allows for smooth and unintrusive transitions between scenes. Props and furniture may be sparse, but we have all we need to move between a hospital, the family house in Islington and, finally, a (somewhat unnecessary) beach in South Africa … Although its central characters are often infuriating, Eldridge surprises us and ignites our interest in these seemingly unlikeable women … It's a slow burn, but The Knot of the Heart gradually wins us round, giving us a compelling story when we least expect to find one.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

“There is no point in pretending this is an easy evening. David Eldridge’s superb new play is the most painful and persuasive account of addiction I have ever encountered … The big question asked by those without addictive tendencies is why apparently sane and intelligent people put themselves through the wringer. I think Eldridge supplies the answer. Addiction may begin with hedonistic pleasure-seeking but at its root lurks a desire for oblivion … Eldridge wrote the play especially for Lisa Dillon and she is sensational as Lucy, capturing the paradoxical mixture of grandiosity and self-loathing that usually lies at the heart of the addictive personality … But there isn’t a weak link in Michael Attenborough’s searching production, which combines bruising dramatic impact with persuasive psychological detail … It’s a challenging play, but exceptionally rewarding and illuminating and I especially recommend it to anyone with addiction problems in their family. There is real enlightenment on offer here, as well as tentative hope.”

Paul Taylor

“There's an almost site-specific dimension to this Almeida premiere of The Knot of the Heart, David Eldridge's searching and scrupulous new play about the fall and rocky, gruelling rehab of a twentysomething middle-class heroin addict and media wannabe … Indeed, as a cautionary adjunct to the play, the theatre could run tours to, say, nearby Clissold Park, where Lucy prostitutes herself, or to the very cafe on Upper Street where she sometimes buys her dealer one of their meringues … The message is clear: being born into a middle-class stronghold grants no one immunity from the degradations of drug abuse … Eldridge created the role of Lucy for Lisa Dillon and she repays the debt with a shatteringly brilliant and unsparing performance … Kieran Bew turns in a tour de force of versatility as all the men (ranging from a lovely camp Geordie nurse to a red-top journalist on a sting mission) whom Lucy encounters on her odyssey to and beyond a crisis intervention centre.”

Michael Billington

"Addiction is a difficult subject to dramatise: it depends on repetition, isolation, an inability to connect with other people. But, although David Eldridge's moving new play doesn't avoid all the pitfalls, it greatly heightens our understanding of the addictive personality and shows that dependence, whether on drugs or alcohol, is no respecter of class or status … It's a painful subject but Michael Attenborough's production, deftly designed by Peter McKintosh, makes it aesthetically bearable and Dillon amply fills a giant role. What she makes clear is that you never quite know which Lucy you are going to see. And she conveys the addict's fluctuating sense of self in a riveting interview with a psychiatrist in which she moves from snide aggression to desperate neediness. Margot Leicester catches equally well the mother's mix of smothering love and bewildered exasperation … I wouldn't say that, in the end, I love Lucy; but, thanks to Eldridge's compassionately inquiring play, I begin to understand her.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“The play, directed by Michael Attenborough, treks across the territory of addiction, hammering home the fact that this is not a sink-estate problem but for People Like Us … After the interval things speed up for a while, but again the dramatic impetus is clogged by Aga Saga syndrome, in which everybody states their feelings with improbable articulacy … The final revelation, too, belongs in a longish novel, not a tense play. Cut half an hour or so, and its themes of defiance and denial would be strong (‘How dare you call me a junkie, do you know who I am, I am not one of those crack whores’, etc). So would the disastrous triangular relationship between Lucy, her mother and sister. Dillon is superb, expressing the nastiness of the addict while hinting at the beguiling child she was. Margot Leicester as the mother is convincingly crumpled, driven, desperate and deluded … Dan Jones’ soundscape is terrific too: but my companion sadly remarked that ‘it felt as if it came from a more exciting play’.”

Ian Shuttleworth
Financial Times

"When the first act ends with Lucy entering a crisis intervention centre we know the second act can’t simply be an hour-plus of ‘all better now’, so the question is to what extent she will relapse because of Barbara’s excessive mothering and how far, conversely, she will confront her mother over various unspoken family matters. The recovery, like the decline, is neither smooth nor inexorable. It is a matter of the titular knot of the heart, which in a Sanskrit phrase must be broken in order for self-knowledge to take place, a process necessary for each of the three women. None of the central trio in Michael Attenborough’s astute production makes it easy for us to identify with her. Lisa Dillon’s Lucy is arrogant and mendacious, Abigail Cruttenden’s Angela consumed with aggressive bitterness and Margot Leicester’s Barbara obviously in avoidance and/or denial … The final two scenes (discounting an unnecessary saccharin coda) are compelling not as theatre but as human interaction. We all, in our own ways, need to get unknotted.”


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