David Harrower’s Knives in Hens is a play about language, meaning and the acquisition of knowledge.

The three-hander, set in an unspecified pre-industrial landscape, offers a suggestive microcosm of medieval life, contemplating what might have been thought, spoken or scrawled on paper in this largely unexamined era.

The ploughman (Christian Cooke) and his wife (Judith Roddy), live a simple existence. Stunted intellectually by her literal-minded partner, Young Woman (Judith Roddy) meets the local miller (Matt Ryan), who offers her the opportunity to learn. In a struggle of knowledge, power and attraction, Roddy is conflicted in her roles as devoted wife, child of God and progressive thinker. Seeing the limitations of such labels, Roddy’s exploration and expansion of her mind is beautifully communicated through physical gesture and skilful manipulation.

Photography by Marc Brenner

Metaphors of murky puddles and misinterpretations of the meaning of ‘fuck off’ (first picked up at a local fair), infiltrate Harrower’s text in this very literal society. The success of Knives and Hens – originally intended as a radio play – is therefore dependable on its director’s vision to drive the subtleties of its text. In her Donmar Warehouse debut, director Yaël Farber takes a visceral approach to Harrower’s work. Synonymous with her Crucible (The Old Vic, 2014), Farber’s Knives in Hens is engulfed by a grey filtered light, a slow build suspense and witchery and forceful choreography. It is a work of intensity: physical and mental.

Knives in Hens will play at the Donmar Warehouse until 7th October 2017