Review - Wife at the Kiln Theatre
Despite being called Wife, this new play at the Kiln has nothing in common with The Father, The Mother and The Son, all of which were previously premiered at the same address and the last of which is set to transfer to the West End's Duke of York's this summer. That trilogy of plays was written by the Paris-based French writer Florian Zeller; this play by the Australian-born but London-based Samuel Adamson is actually a sophisticated melding of four separate stories, set in four different time frames between 1959 and 2042, that maps the overlapping narratives of the lives of gay and lesbian protagonists against the meta-theatrical framing device of productions of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House that each intersect with.
In a programme note, academic Dan Rebellato describes A Doll's House as "the original #MeToo play", as it shows a woman breaking free of the shackles of her marriage to a controlling patriarch and walking out on her husband (and children) to assert her own sense of agency.
In Adamson's play, a set of queer characters also seek to break free of the conventions they're constrained by - in 1959, a young (and newly pregnant) married woman is still longing for her lesbian lover. In 1988, the son that resulted is now an adult gay man with a closeted, 20 year old lover of his own, trying to navigate homophobia and AIDS. In 2019, another young woman tries to find out more about her own father who died in a homophobic attack in Australia, who it turns out was the lover in 1988; and then in 2042 we spin full circle back to another theatre where a production of A Doll's House is playing to see both how Ibsen's play is endlessly relevant but also how painfully resonant it is, too.
This is a deeply textured play (though it may have a few too many "in" theatre references) that like The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez's multi-layered epic riff on Howard's End, provides a rich and rewarding, dense and intense look at gay historical legacies in a new context. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this month in New York that marked the birth of modern gay liberation, this play could not be more timely.
Director Indhu Rubasingham's fluid staging, with designer Richard Kent providing a smartly changing series of locations, is beautifully acted by an ensemble cast of just six who play multiple characters.
Theatre itself provides the characters with an anchor in a changing world; it's a moving demonstration of the enduring power of the stage to help them understand themselves and in turn, our own lives.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner