After a rather dire domestic drama at the National, I was delighted to see a family saga that really rings true in terms of the complexity of family relationships. When David Eldridge's THE KNOT OF THE HEART began -- with thirty-something ex children's television presenter Lucy smoking heroin while her mother watched, wineglass in hand -- I thought, uh oh, we're in for a predictable slide down into the gutter and death for our heroine. We pretty much get that --wthout the death (just almost) -- in the first hour. But the play is really about the relationships of two sisters with each other and with their mother. Lucy has been infantilized by her needy, doting mother. Sister Angela is a tough, bitter lawyer who resents the mother's preference for weak Lucy. This could be formulaic, but Eldridge understands that such relationships aren't that simple. The mother is great at evading hard questions and at manipulating Lucy who shares her mother's flaws. There are no simple answers here. Lucy's recovery is not easy or complete. The sisters come to a reconciliation, but only after moments of real cruelty. Lucy has to get away from her mother, but she must also forgive her.
Eldridge has created fascinating, three-dimensional characters and his dialogue is vibrant. He also has a terrific cast. Lisa Dillon and Margot Leicester really bring Lucy and her powerful mother to life. There is one moment toward the end when Lucy ad her mother keep repeating "I love you." That phrase takes on a different meaning with each repetition. Abigail Cruttenden makes sister Angela's bitterness three-dimensional. Kieran Bew plays all the male roles: Lucy's druggie boyfriend, her brutal dealer, a tough gay nurse, an inexperienced shrink and Angela's boyfriend. As usual, Michael Attenborough has staged the play deftly and helped his actors shape convincing characters. The revolving set by Peter McIntosh is simple but effective.
THE KNOT OF THE HEART is longish, but always absorbing.
THE KNOT OF THE HEART. Almeida Theatre. April 27, 2011.