The Knot of the Heart makes its world premiere this season at the Almeida Theatre on Upper Street, Islington. A dark, emotionally charged new play by David Eldridge that carries out a full investigation of addiction, its causes and devastating effects.
We watch as pretty, successful and well off Lucy falls into a horrific drug dependency, dragging down her family too as they desperately try to help. Gradually as she is suffocated by her mother’s affection, it becomes clear how dangerous devotion can be. The title comes from the Sanskrit phrase, ‘hRRidaya-granthi’ which translates as ‘the knot of the heart’, it is a bind that must be broken in order for self knowledge to take place.
Lisa Dillon is thrilling as the play’s lead, Lucy, unfalteringly she controls the action and is on stage almost constantly. This is a ambitious vehicle for a leading actress and she rises to the challenge; with all the mood changes it is a character that must be physically and emotionally exhausting to play. Eldridge and Dillon met years prior to this play’s realisation, when Dillon had mentioned her desire to play a leading role and “get to go on a journey like the boys get to go on,” and so the part of Lucy was written for her, a character not defined by her relationship to a man.
It is a long play, perhaps too long, that spirals way out of control before it is reined in again. In the first half we watch the decline, a messy business with needles, blades, blood, swearing, hospital beds and death, all the worst consequences of a drug addiction. I would not say I found it enjoyable to watch, it was well acted but unpleasant to witness. I didn’t feel like there was anything new being said, it was like a news report, bare facts and horrible images.
The second half brings some development: a sub story, underlying currents and some drama and motivation. The script is more fluent here too, and the actresses certainly seem to handle it better. Margot Leicester excels as the loving mother, snobbish and stupid, she will do anything to help her daughter out of this agonising habit. Abigail Cruttenden plays the cruel curt older sister very convincingly. Kieran Bew is brilliant as ‘The Men,’ covering a range of diverse male roles throughout the play including an aggressive drug dealer, a camp nurse and even a South African gent right at the end. He displays impressive versatility and consistency.
The conclusion feels a little unconvincing, as Lucy suddenly travels across the world and finds instant contentment, but as a whole ‘The Knot of the Heart’ is a poignant piece. It is painfully gripping and educational about the frightening, but very real world of addiction.
Continues until Saturday 30 April, book here.