Theatre Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Words: Sam Harvey
Thursday 06 April 2023
reading time: min, words

Sam Harvey went to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead...


Deep in the woods of Poland, something mysterious is going on. Full of unexpected twists, turns and surprises ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ delivers a standout tour de force in narrative, visual storytelling, theme and tone. Based on the novel by Olga Tokarczuk, directed by Simon McBurney and performed by the fantastic Complicité theatre company, the show expertly explores themes of nature, belief, conservationism, grief and life. Told in ‘one take’ so to speak, with no scene breaks bar the interval the audience and the actors are left no room to breathe as we are presented with a barrage of raw emotions, deafening sound effects and harrowing imagery.

Upon discovering the death of her neighbor, Janina (Amanda Hardingue) sees this as the stars aligning and nature taking its revenge upon the hunters of the valley and the corrupt members of the community. As more unexplained deaths begin occurring, she seeks solace in her friends, in astrology and in nature. Exploring the tight knit community and how it attempts to either live alongside, or dominate, the surrounding wildlife, we are treated to many complicated and contrasting characters who perfectly drive the story forward.

With a simple costume shift we are transported to the forests of Poland

Kathryn Hunter brings us a showstopping performance throughout. As Janina, our narrator and principal character, she delivers essentially a three-hour monologue over the course of the play, broken up by interactions from other cast members who excel in equal measure. Janina’s life story is brought across by both wit and raw emotion, allowing the audience to see how she became the woman she is, holding the values that drive her actions throughout the play. Her insights into other characters allow us to gain a new appreciation of these individuals that can only be gained through one-sided, often biased narration.

The set itself is a thing of beauty and the presence of the design team is felt just as strongly as those on stage. Lighting, video and sound combine with expert choreography to create a foreboding and often upsetting atmosphere that helps drive home the themes of the play. With a simple costume shift, we are transported to the forests of Poland, the inky black of the night sky, seedy police stations and dingy nightclubs. The ensemble helps to perfectly encapsulate the fluid ambiance through use of interpretive dance, creative costume design and set changes. Every member of the cast and crew should be commended for an incredible job well done!

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead does not pull any punches when it comes to shocking its audience or delivering an intense, often beautiful story. I would absolutely recommend this show and can confidently give it five stars.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead plays at the Nottingham Playhouse from Wednesday 6th April until Saturday 8th April 2023.

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