Knowledge and a Girl

★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 Aug 2015

Despite being one of Britain’s most prolific playwrights, Howard Barker’s dark, sexualised retelling of Snow White has never been performed in the UK. This premiere by KUDOS, Kingston University’s drama company, presents a difficult script in a bare and ultimately boring production.

Focusing on the evil stepmother’s sexual appetite and her stepdaughter’s quest for carnal knowledge, Barker reimagines the Snow White story through sharp, unsettling poetry. Colloquialisms brush up against heavily stylised lines. The actors, voices strained into vaguely BBC period drama accents, can’t quite capture its rhythms and there’s a jarring mismatch of content and delivery. 

The writing strains for deliberate oddity (“the king of all Ireland wants to eat my mother”), so the direction and sound design try to match it (cutlery on the floor, short bursts of a dog barking). There’s a faintly medieval design as a bare-chested blacksmith hammers out his metal and kings and princes wear green velvet capes, but it’s countered with modern touches like Converse trainers. 

The performances are slightly overwrought, particularly John Alan Bond as the king who does little else but shout. As a meditation on fidelity and promiscuity, pleasure and pain, and on the power and gender dynamics of sex, it’s a dense and intriguing piece but the full power of the poetry is obscured by performances that are either bland or too exaggerated.