A Woman Killed with Kindness by Thomas Heywood
Directed by Katie Mitchell
Written for South London Press
Director Katie Mitchell returns to Thomas Heywood’s Jacobean drama with a naturalistic production, setting the action of the play at the brink between the two world wars, in a middle class society still dominated by patriarchal and financial pressures.
A Woman Killed with Kindness brings together the refined language of 16th century drama in the naturalistic setting of 19th century, in a performance that appropriates thematically from the kitchen sink dramas of the 1960s. When a wedding dispute between Sit John Frankford and Sir Charles Mountford escalates, it sets off a tumult of events that will dramatically alter the quiet domestic lives of the two households. Caught in the midst are two women, Anne, married to Frankford and Susan, Mountford’s devoted sister.
On Lizzie Clachan and Vicky Mortimer’s split-level set, the two households are set against each other. One household with its peeling walls and empty interiors, the other, a precisely decorated interior that hides a darker truth.
Mitchell is in complete control of the stage, elegantly gliding from one scene to the other, between one household and another with an impressive rhythm and skilled precision. The scene changes provide a stylistic counterpoint, where action is fast-forwarded or broken down, and John Clark’s lighting plays a key part in establishing the atmosphere of each scene, sometimes cold and unassuming, at others soft and emotive.
This is a superbly directed and finely acted production that holds a stronger character than the original script, yet despite this it’s underpinned by a forced sentimentality- it remains a domestic tragedy with a windy soap-opera plot that doesn’t reverberate strongly, merely impresses in its technique. The performance has a strongly cinematic language pinned to perfection, yet in the end the effect is superficial, as false as the imposed weight of the character’s dramas. It’s a strikingly feminist production that plays off as a powerful dramatic exercise but with a rather banal plot that doesn’t support the imposed morality.