Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead – The Lowry

I live oppositeish The Lowry Theatre and from my apartment I have been able to see the big red foreboding (not sure why foreboding – I guess it’s the redness of it all, the slightly off way the words are configured, the specific word bones itself?) billboard poster from my apartment for some weeks now.

Perhaps this messaging had been slowly creeping into my consciousness as I sat eating breakfast (actually I don’t eat breakfast), as I sat scrolling Tik Tok (I do do that), loafed on the sofa whilst watching pigeons build a nest on my balcony (I do this, they do this), but off I did trot across the bridge to see Complicite’s Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead last night.

The play is based on the Nobel literary prize winning novel of the same name, by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

In the depths of winter, in a small community on a remote mountainside near the Czech-Polish border, men from the local hunting club are dying in mysterious circumstances. Local resident Janina Duszejko – ex-engineer, environmentalist, devoted astrologer and translator of William Blake – has her suspicions…

And speaking of William Blake who is much quoted throughout the play, it is he who is responsible, well in part, for those paraphrased 9 words which have been permeating my very being, every waking moment spent in my apartment, for all these weeks, set against that blood red background for all to see.

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead

…is it what poet Blake actually wrote in Proverbs From Hell. Which is all very dark all round, isn’t it?

And so this neatly leads onto this production which, at 3 hours long, is no walk in park, even for the seasoned theatre-goer, although actually is a literal walk in the woods.

For this is the backdrop to a series of deaths; humans and wildlife (and some not so ‘wild’), punctuated by cacophonous sounds, blinding flashes of light (whilst much to enjoy last night – these not so much), and a cast whose beautifully choreographed movements and acting allowed us to see them morph and shape-shift before our very eyes.

But it was our narrator of the piece, character Janina Duszejko, actor Kathryn Hunter, who commanded most attention (not least by use of a microphone centre stage as she told her story). A spirited, beguiling energetic yet understated performance, the stage was owned.

Ms Hunter’s performance is one of two sides. There’s the gleefully dour and rhythmically pleasing delivery of her words, the timing deliciously on point, as she stands front on to the audience.

But then there is the physical performance, one depicting passion which only falters in the character when the ailments beset by age throw her into a desperate writhing, like an injured animal, begging to be put out of its misery. Indeed.

It’s a play where one moment we’re plunged into the world of fantasy, the next a world of murder, of satire, of societal dangers and political hot-potatoes and overriding all of this, the overwhelming plight of the animal world.

It’s at times, most times, the tale of the incidental detective – a protagonist to rival Jessica Fletcher (rest in peace).

And it’s funny. It sometimes has the air of an Annie Hall, a bitingly witty farce set about a strange surreal community – but less Manhattan brownstone and more Polish hillside.

And there we have the lynchpin of the production, the messaging. The mistreatment of the natural world and the imbalance between hierarchy between man and animal. Are the animals indeed getting their revenge and will I ever move to Team Human (unlikely – fellow softy animal-lovers – trigger warning whenever Mrs Duszejko refers to ‘her daughters’…).

Pic credit: Mark Brenner

The message is strong, the production values of the highest quality. The cast and crew exude talent. It’s one of those memorable productions which tinkers with, and at times pushes, the boundaries of theatre.

Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is on at the Lowry Theatre (a co-commissioner of the production), until Saturday 29 April. To find out more and book tickets, please visit the Lowry Theatre/Drive your Plow

Thurs-Sat evenings’ performances are also being livestreamed – info and tickets (from £12.99) here:

Credit: Complicite Theatre – click image for full details

Shhhh!!!the science bit

I have to share this detail from one human being attending the theatre on a working week night, to another – it is long.

It’s brilliant but I didn’t feel good about myself as I struggled to get comfortable in that last 30 minutes.

I love to wax lyrical about a production but I also like to share practical advice.

The first half is 90 mins – achieve the right balance of hydration. And layer up so you can layer down throughout the second half – it gets warm in those there stalls.

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