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The Old Woman

By Daniil Kharms

Palace Theatre, 4 July 2013

Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov in The Old Woman.  Photo by Lucie Jansch

Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov in The Old Woman. Photo by Lucie Jansch

Kharms gets the Comeddia dell’Arte treatment, perhaps with a smidgeon of zaum thrown in, courtesy of Robert Wilson.

In the main, it suits: Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe make for a congenial double act, the set and lighting effects are both expressionistic and childlike (a reminder that Kharms was a terrific children’s writer, despite his antipathy toward the little ones), it’s all very jolly yet with an undertone of dread.

There is not much narrative to speak of, but then again there is little to be found in the original inchoate text, which might best be described as an absurdist skit on Crime and Punishment with a vibe of ‘I could, but I choose not to.’  It is a story about lack as much as anything and when Kharms writes of the hallucinations brought on by hunger, he is likely writing from experience: he lived a hand-to-mouth existence and died of starvation in 1942.  Some of Kharms shorter writings, notably ‘Tumbling Old Women’ and the portrait of the red-headed fellow in The Blue Notebook (it’s Entry No. 10), have been incorporated into the performance.  These additions work well.

The Old Woman is showing at the Palace Theatre as part of the Manchester International Festival until 7 July.  Further details can be found here.

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