Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court

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by guest critic Simona Negretto

When a trauma shatters the crystalline equilibrium and accepted dynamics of a family, is the tendency for the generations that follow to repeat it inescapably or can a single individual react against that?

Alice Birch’s new work, Anatomy of a Suicide, courageously investigates how the suicide of a mother affects the lives of a daughter and a granddaughter, haunts their own motherhood (or causing the lack of it) and their relationships. Simultaneously staging the three intertwined stories of Carol, Anna and Bonnie during three different eras – the 70s, the 90s and the near future – the play ambitiously creates a multidimensional and multi-level world engaging the audience and the actors in an extraordinary and overwhelming tour de force.

Such a complex and intricate script would not be conceivable without Katie Mitchell’s magnificent and precise direction that flawlessly beats a fast-paced rhythm and, at the same time, gives visual and narrative clarity to those three female voices. Carol, Anna and Bonnie seem trapped in the aseptic set designed by Alex Eales: partly an asphyxiating cage with many doors that lead nowhere, partly an anatomy theatre in which the audience watch the dissection of a trauma.

The cast inhabit it like dolls, dressed and undressed by others, left emotionally alone to their own, apparently, unavoidable urge to repeat: the same acts, the same words, the same patterns. In the background are the male characters – husbands, fathers, friends, lovers – unified by some sort of cowardly inability either to understand or to share emotions, offering useless support but mainly looking scared and uneasy. But among all the predetermination, and despite all the suffering, the play tries to leave room for possibility, for hope, for setting the individual free from the family’s legacy.

The excellent cast of three ravishing and intense performances is delivered by Hattie Morahan as Carol, Kate O’Flynn as Anna and Adelle Leonce as Bonnie. Morahan’s Carol is purely mesmerising, a spiral of determination and dreamy – not here, not now – vagueness that deeply bewitches the audience like a magical Angela Carter character. O’Flynn’s Anna is a portrait of intense and sincere humanity: fragile, messy but tenderly funny, she is the one who builds the strongest bridge with the spectator. While Adelle Leonce’s solid and powerful performance brings Bonnie to life, hers is perhaps the most controversial and questioning character of the three.

Anatomy of a Suicide deeply penetrates the surface of one’s emotions like a cold, sharp surgical scalpel. Unsettling, disturbing but at the same time tender, funny and deeply human this is theatre at its best and will live under the audience’s skin long after its end.

Anatomy of a Suicide runs through 8 July.

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