Anatomy of a Suicide

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Four Stars

There is something unflinching about Alice Birch’s overlapping dramatic triptych, performed here with relentless drive by the RCS’ final year BA Acting students. This is the case from the play’s gauntlet-throwing title onwards, as it edges slowly but surely towards the inevitable set of conclusions it marks out across 70 years and three generations of women. The painful study of hand-me-down neuroses that unfurls across time-zones is forensic and at times harrowing in its matter-of-fact study of Carol, Anna and Bonnie, whose lives it maps and unravels as they mentally self-lacerate themselves to death.

As Carol, Vera Koski lays bare both her character’s quietly self-destructive tendencies and a perceptive and articulate self-knowingness, though Anna’s birth does nothing to heal her. Anna by turn goes her own way, going from heroin using wild child to worn-out mum at the end of her tether with the arrival of her daughter Bonnie. This is brought to life by Charlie Oscar with a mixture of bravado and vulnerability. Natalie Mitson’s Bonnie may be childless, but she too is laden with piled-on anxieties not of her making.

As volleys of cross-talk rattle through the years, it becomes a dazzling atonal symphony of words from each timeline, the counterpoints of which are as insistent and as demanding as a modernist chorale or a Robert Ashley spoken-word opera. The occasional politesse of saying yes, no or thank-you are fleeting moments of unison across the years.

Director Finn den Hertog’s sensitive knitting together of the play’s various strands among his cast of thirteen becomes a howl of hurt as troublingly intense as a Jane Arden film. Astrid Lindgreen Hjermind’s tile-covered set, meanwhile, suggests that wiping away the mess isn’t as easy as it looks. Koski, Oscar and Mitson’s portraits of three shades of despair suggests each woman might shatter into a thousand pieces any second in a staggering impressionistic evocation of fractured psyches in freefall.