DAVID HARROWER's first full-scale production, Knives In Hens is a play

where language takes centre stage. Set somewhere in sixteenth-century

Scotland -- dates and place names are not specified -- the piece focuses

on the lives of ploughman Pony William, his young wife, and the village


Within their world only objects with a concrete use are deemed worthy

of a name and the play traces the young woman's quest to create a

language for the thoughts and feelings in her head. The relationship the

woman forms with the learned miller (an outcast from the community for

supposedly murdering his wife and unborn child) gives her both the

practical and emotional tools she needs for self expression.

Knives In Hens is however much more than a dry philosophical tract on

the problems of language and communication. It draws us into a world

that is far from simple and shows us lives that are governed by

superstitious customs, misguided religious beliefs, fear, and hatred.

The play bubbles with a strong erotic undercurrent and as it progresses

layers of deceit, infidelity, and sexual desire are exposed. It is also

a surprisingly funny play, with its humour lying in our recognition that

the characters are not simple-minded peasants from yesteryear but people

like us with similar emotions, frustrations, and aspirations.

Martyn Bennett's live musical score gives the piece a vibrant sense of

urgency and Mark Lease's beautiful, simple stage design seems to reflect

the poetic sparsity of Harrower's language.

Knives in Hens is a bizarre, unsettling play that speaks to us in ways

that are both strange and familiar. It is a genuinely compelling piece

of theatre.