Review: Knives in Hens (Coal Mine Theatre)

Picture of Diana Bentley and Jonathan Young in Knives in Hens

“Knives in Hens” is a Dynamic, Effective and Engaging Production of a Thought-Provoking Script

Coal Mine Theatre kicks off its 2019-2020 season with an absorbing, delightfully tense production of Knives in Hens, directed by Leora Morris. 

“Knives in Hens”, by David Harrower, is regarded as a modern classic in Scottish theatre. Taking place in an unnamed, pre-Industrialized Scottish village, it centres around a character simply named Young Woman. The woman is married to a ploughman of the village. At the beginning of the story, she also meets the town’s miller. While at first she follows convention and shows disdain toward the miller, the two develop a peculiar relationship that leads both of them to a freedom they didn’t know they needed. 

I’ve never seen this play before, so while I can’t compare it to other productions, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The skillful combination of Morris’s direction, Kaitlyn Hickey’s set and lighting design, Michelle Tracey’s costume design, and Christopher Ross-Ewart’s sound design created a world in which I felt totally immersed. All of these elements were minimal, but essential. I really felt transported in time and place. 

One particular design element I appreciated was the presence of dirt. Not only is it a key part of the set design (you’ll see what I mean when you see the show), but I also appreciated how it made the subtle demarcation between the ploughman and the miller. The ploughman, intimately familiar with the land, is caked with a layer of dirt throughout the play. The miller, on the other hand, often derided for his lack of connection to the land, is significantly cleaner than the ploughman. I feel like this creates a really interesting visual contrast between the two. 

The three performers (Diana Bentley, Jim Mezon, and Jonathan Young) are a highly effective ensemble under the guidance of Morris. Of note is the dynamic between Bentley (as the Young Woman) and Young (as the miller, Gilbert Horn). There were many moments in which I felt like I could cut the tension between them with a knife (in the most delicious way), and this made moments of relief all the more enjoyable. 

If there is one note of critique I would offer, I felt that the first half of the show was dominated by short scenes that employed black outs in every transition. Personally, these recurring black outs took me out of the moment. As the show progressed I noticed that I felt far more engaged when the stage remained partially lit, and was glad to see that lighting gradually become the norm. The frequent black outs may be due to constraints in the script, as the first few scenes are very short and the settings keep changing. This is a relatively small consideration, but something I noticed nonetheless. 

Overall, I would highly recommend this show. The set and design are immersive and the acting and direction are both very engaging. All of these elements serve as a great bolster for Harrower’s thought provoking script. 

Details

    • Knives in Hens is playing until October 13, 2013 at Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Avenue)
    • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, with an additional matinee on Sundays at 2pm
    • Ticket prices range from $47.50 – $55.50 (plus HST)
      Rush tickets are $25 (cash only, at the door, 45 minutes before performance starts, subject to availability. No phone reservations).
    • Tickets are available online or in person at the box office

Photo of Diana Bentley and Jonathan Young by Dahlia Katz

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