Thomas W. Hodgkinson


By Sophie Treadwell
Almeida, London

An office of stenographers. Their typewriters twinned in the mirrored ceiling. Their unfeeling, intertwining dialogue, as fractured as a futurist painting, presenting the mental state of the heroine (Emily Berrington), who shuffles in and takes her seat center stage: a haunted, human figure amid the clacking machines. These are the first sights and sounds of this gripping revival of Sophie Treadwell’s merciless feminist fable, which debuted on Broadway in 1928 — God only knows how revolutionary it must have seemed back then. The 90 minutes that follow comprise vivid snapshots from a life of female misery: the reluctant marriage to a puffed-up plutocrat (Jonathan Livingstone); the horrors of childbirth; a glimpse of happiness in the muscular arms of a lover (Dwane Walcott). To reveal more would be to ruin it, but let’s just say it doesn’t end well. The staging is so powerful that, at times, it threatens to overwhelm the performances. I’m not sure Berrington has yet found the strength, the righteous madness, for her primal scream of defiance. Perhaps that’s the point. From the strip lights and sound effects, from the shrill drills in the street outside the hospital and the heartless clatter of that opening scene, it’s clear: she doesn’t stand a chance.