Theatre Review: The Knot of the Heart @ Almeida Theatre

Victoria Rudland
By Victoria Rudland Last edited 86 months ago
Theatre Review: The Knot of the Heart @ Almeida Theatre

David Eldridge’s brilliant new play for the Almeida takes a long, hard look at the nature of addiction and its devastating costs to the addict and those close to them.

Our addict is Lucy, a privileged, 27-year-old children’s TV presenter with a penchant for smack.  Fired by the BBC after being caught smoking heroin in her dressing room, she moves back into her mother's Islington home 'until she starts feeling better’.  Spanning three years, the play follows Lucy as she moves from smoking to injecting, through homelessness and hospitalisation to a crisis intervention centre, and her long struggle to get clean – bankrupting her mother and alienating her elder sister in the process.

It’s a family drama, really, being as much about Lucy’s complex relationship with her mother as it is her relationship with heroin.  Barbara’s support for her favourite daughter know no bounds, whether she’s holding the foil for her as she takes a hit, or procuring gear from her dealer in an Upper Street café.  But is she enabling Lucy's habit or protecting her?   After all, left to her own devices, her daughter heads down to Clissold Park and prostitutes herself to score some gear – so at least this way she’s not endangering herself.  Y’know, apart from with all the smack.

Eldridge wrote the part of Lucy with Lisa Dillon in mind, and she tackles the marvellously meaty role with aplomb.  Dillon’s Lucy has many faces and she handles the intricate nuances of the character with great honesty and skill – we see her slurring and sensual after a hit in her mother’s garden, aggressive and disorientated as a junkie on the streets, and gentle and earnest as she attempts to reconcile with her sister.  Margot Leicester gives a passionate performance as the desperate, over-indulgent Barbara, and Abigail Cruttenden’s hard pragmatism and steeliness as Lucy’s solicitor sister hides a vulnerability of her own.  Sophie Stanton provides solid support as care worker Marina, and Kieran Bew adroitly portrays a host of minor characters so distinct from one another that you’re taken aback when only one man appears for the curtain call.

Director Michael Attenborough’s exciting, riveting production gallops forward at such a pace, the two hours and 40 minutes flies by.  A thoughtful, sympathetic treatment of the harmful effects of dependence – not only dependence on drugs, but also over-dependence on loved ones, Eldridge’s latest is a moving, unconventional and, at times, shocking play.

The Knot of the Heart runs until April 30th at the Almeida Theatre, Islington, London, N1 1TA.  Call 020 7359 4404 for tickets or book online.

Production shot by Keith Pattison.

Last Updated 20 March 2011