The Writer, Almeida Theatre, review: young playwright Ella Hickson offers ‘a subtle reflection on power hierarchies’ in meta triumph

Writer's block: Romola Garai as the playwright in Ella Hickson's new drama at the Almeida. Photographs: Manuel Harlan

Writer’s block: Romola Garai as the playwright in Ella Hickson’s new drama at the Almeida. Photographs: Manuel Harlan

The Writer is a new play written by Ella Hickson and directed by Blanche McIntyre that explores a subject dating back at least half a century – the depredations of patriarchy and capitalism.

An aspiring playwright is thwarted in her creative ambitions by an overbearing and exploitative male director, who subsequently wrestles with her to produce a play – they very play we are watching.

In the process we as audience are guided through the various stages of (post)feminism by a series of (post)modernist dramatic tropes.

An initial sketch of young artist voicing her rage is followed by decreasingly stereotypical depictions of gender roles as simplistic preconceptions of power structures are progressively deconstructed.

The Writer AlmeidaOver the course of a single 120 minute stretch, the four actors who make up the cast portray, in addition to the playwright herself (Romola Garai and Lara Rossi), faithful partners (Samuel West and Lara Rossi) and the elder male director (Samuel West and Michael Gould).

The five-part narrative is, at one level, a subtle reflection on power hierarchies and dramatic depictions thereof. At another level, the Writer is a portrait of the artistic process, warts and all, displaying the energy and passion of the creative, but also her narcissism and neediness.

There are unsettling chords implicit in the dominated turned dominatrix; or the woman who yearns to be free to develop her creativity and demands that her male protector provides a safe space for her to do so.

More than just an attack on sexism, the Writer is a subtle meditation on the ineluctability of power relations and the ambiguities of our insertion into them.

The Writer is on at the Almeida Theatre (Almeida Street, N1 1TA) until 26 May