To the National to see Katie Mitchell's new production of A Woman Killed by Kindness. It's a fascinating production and the best kind of theatrical experiment.
Originally set in 1603 Mitchell sets the production in 1919 - a world of huge uncertainty, regret and shame brought about by the end of the war mixed in with a new sense of purpose and possibility - women's suffrage had been granted the year before. The update not only allows us to focus on the mirrored lives of Annie, whose husband punishes her adultery by turning her out of the home and refusing her access to her children, whilst Susan, trapped and lonely in her brother Charles' house is traded into marriage in order to pay a debt of honour, but makes clear the suggestion that the plays of the Jacobean age have a domestic rigour to them that can make terrifying sense when juxtaposed with the skull beneath the skin violence and cruelty that is only a weak mistake away from us all. The men play cards whilst the women manhandled like pieces of furniture in beautifully choreographed interludes, are punished for missing perfection.
Mitchell is fascinated by the early twentieth century and as ever links links her feminist reading to one of class. Servants scurry mute mice around the set, always hurried, always unrewarded, always aware. It is a patriarchal world and we are left to wonder at the structures that enable so much unchecked destruction to be placed in the hands of monied men.
The show runs at nearly two hours without an interval, but has enough texture to support the investment. This is a recognisable world which rescues the play from the dusty shelves and reclaims it as a serious and contemporary comment on gender politics.