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The Theatreguide.London Review

Hampstead Theatre Spring 2006

Marie NDiaye's play is a subtle and original study in the corrupting power of money that unfortunately dissipates its power and insights by lingering on too long.

A rich woman engages the never-seen Hilda as a housekeeper-nanny, exposing in the process the kind of blind assumption by the rich that the world revolves around them.

The employer thinks it perfectly normal that Hilda should abandon her own children to look after hers, and  assumes the right, not only to Hilda's service, but to her gratitude and love, and even prides herself on her own liberalism and generosity.

But as she demands more and more from Hilda, and explains oh-so-rationally to Hilda's husband why she has more of a claim on Hilda than he does, we see blindness and egotism tipping over chillingly into a kind of madness.

It is a powerful indictment of the mentality of the rich precisely because NDiaye has to exaggerate so very little to make the woman so obviously and dangerously insane.

The only thing wrong with the play is that it says everything it has to say in the first half-hour but then continues for another forty minutes, just saying it again and again as its power melts away.

It seems odd to complain of a seventy-minute play that it is too long, but it would have been far more effective if it were shorter or if the playwright had built more slowly toward her vision instead of peaking so soon.

None of this can detract from Rachel Kavanaugh's subtle and balanced direction or from Stella Gonet's performance in the central role.

With a good 90% of the dialogue, Gonet never allows the woman's facade to crack as she takes her on the journey from apparent reason through seeming eccentricity to clear madness.

Bo Poraj provides strong support as Hilda's husband, perplexed at watching himself being slowly edged out of his own life, and only Sarah Cattle in a badly-written minor role lapses into stereotype.

As is often the case at the Hampstead, the designer - in this case Peter McKintosh - is a significant co-star in the production, giving the rich woman a house that looks like a zoo cage, suggesting not only her imprisonment of Hilda but her own mental and spiritual bondage.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Hilda - Hampstead Theatre 2006


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