The Knot of the Heart at the Almeida

Written for starstarstarstar

With three cold-hearted women at its centre, it’s initially difficult to warm to David Eldridge’s new play. All three have addictions of some kind: Lucy has a drug problem, her older sister Angela is a workaholic, and their mother Barbara seems permanently to have a glass of wine glued to her hand. It’s frustrating to watch these inward-looking, unsympathetic, middle class women throw abuse after abuse at each other, and only when Lucy enters the crisis centre do things suddenly become interesting.

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. In the refuge centre she reluctantly becomes normalised – it’s only then that we realise the full extent of her mother’s stultifying child-rearing techniques.

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. Kieran Bew also makes an impressive contribution to the production, taking on the roles of six different minor male characters. From a camp nurse to a drug dealer, each persona he inhabits is distinct from the previous one.

Although its central characters are often infuriating, Eldridge surprises us and ignites our interest in these seemingly unlikeable women. These characters at first seem superficial, but we come to understand the history and conflict of these deeply troubled yet over-privileged 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.


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