Anatomy of a Suicide
8 June 2017
The past is the present, it’s the future too, as Mary Cavan Tyrone says in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. All three take place simultaneously in Alice Birch’s accomplished new play, Anatomy of a Suicide, telling the stories of three generations of women in the 1970s, 1990s and 2030s.
Carol has been troubled since her teens but suffers deeper depression after the birth of her daughter, Anna, which later drives her to suicide. In turn, Anna struggles after losing her mother at a young age and falls into a life of drug abuse until she settles down and has her own baby. Anna’s suicide haunts her daughter, Bonnie, who grows up to become an A&E consultant, spurning relationships out of fear of following the same path as her mother and grandmother.
Each of these are played out next to each other on the same stage, with lines intertwining and words echoing each other like a symphony of language. This bold approach cleverly demonstrates the legacy of a suicide and how it can resonate down through the generations.
For the audience, the experience is an intense two hours as attention flits constantly between the three narratives, often overlapping. Directed by Katie Mitchell, the interaction between the three is technically brilliant and meticulously timed, sometimes to the point of distracting from the anguish being enacted. But the cast are phenomenal, from Hattie Morahan’s ethereal Carol to Kate O’Flynn’s mercurial Anna to Adelle Leonce’s emotionally self-contained Bonnie.
They are well supported by Paul Hilton as Carol’s strong, caring but bewildered husband who develops into a broken man frustrated at being unable to help his daughter as she looks set to follow his late wife’s trajectory. Jodie McNee stands out in a number of roles including Bonnie’s on-off lover along with Sarah Malin as Carol’s uptight sister-in-law and Anna’s plain-speaking cousin.
A series of doors with hospital-like handles make up the striking set, designed by Alex Eales, broken up by period props and spot-on costumes designed by Sarah Blenkinsop. The power of the play is heightened by the atmospheric and often unsettling soundscape designed by Melanie Wilson with music by Paul Clark.
The play may not be saying anything new about the inheritance of suicide but Birch has found an effective way to explore how the trauma of suicide eats into every moment of the lives that follow. The staging is ambitious but pays off although its intensity may leave you feeling shattered.
Running to July 8, 2017