Writing about writing has been done before, countless times. But Ella Hickson’s new play, The Writer, transcends the usual preoccupations. Her multi-layered play explores how a writer is affected by their work and the pressures on them, both internal and external. Discourses are popping up everywhere following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, surrounding the patriarchal structures of art, and our society as a whole. “Do you believe in the patriarchy?” asks a university English student in the first scene, confronting a director who has previously made a move on her 18-year-old self, and with this line Hickson brings her play into the discussion. The director doesn’t seem to understand that his action was a potential abuse of power. The girl asserts, “I want to be successful because I’m talented, not because I am fuck-able. ”
‘Fuck-able’ is the running theme here. Not only does Hickson explore a woman’s artistic vulnerability, The Writer also explores desire in general. She shows the insidious nature of male-dominated structures of power asserting a man’s right to have sex with a woman. What about if it is a woman and a woman? Does someone still need to be ‘dominant?’ Is this how relationships are portrayed to us? Could there be a place where women can have autonomy?
“All plays are a political statement”, Hickson also explores the extent to which art can really be a force for change. Is it just a self-indulgence and a way for artists to ignore the ‘real world and find refuge or is there true value in it?
Wonderful performances carry this play through. The diversity of Samuel West is outstanding, changing from an unmindful misogynistic director to an insecure boyfriend. Romola Garai also beautifully toes the line of a nervous artistic temperament; we see her desire to please, but also her internal war with herself from her unbending commitment to her work’s authenticity.
The extreme strength of this play is its power in showing the insidiousness of the issues it is exploring. “The world is falling apart”, but we don’t hear loud banging and warring. Things go on around us and to us that we don’t even see ourselves because they have seeped into the pores of societal structures. The director standing watching over the scene in the living room is the history and present that we accept around us. The Writer suggests that we need to take a step back.
The Writer is playing at the Almeida until 26 May
Photo: Manuel Harlan