David Harrower reflects on Knives

Mon, 02/06/2012

Playwright David Harrower reflects on Knives in Hens and how words can kill.

Taken from Landmark Productions' program notes:

"Knives in Hens was written in 1993 when I was 27, a frustrating, going-round-in-circles time, when Scottish playwrights and their work were largely absent from the main Scottish stages, because – I was told by an esteemed artistic director – audiences just won’t come to see Scottish work. Times do change.

But, back then, I was reduced to hawking my work around various literary directors and associates, nodding at their verdicts and advice even as in the theatre behind them would be the set for some play or other that I was resolute would mean nothing to me or the country or times I lived in.

I was dismissive in ‘93, aggrieved, annoyed, raging in fact, and spectacularly unproduced. Knives came out of a long, fulminating play about land ownership in Lowland Scotland, the countryside surrounding Edinburgh where I was born and brought up. In it a traveling storyteller come to market tells a story of a wife and her ploughman and her journey to the mill and what befalls her there.

That larger play is long cold in the ground but this small sketch of a story remained with me. I wrote it quickly, no hesitancy as to its merit or historical accuracy. I just wanted it out. And as I wrote, the metaphysical of it suddenly came into view. The liberation of not how was it then? – the stuck realism of that – but the what if it was like this? How did (does) a person’s language and imaginative reach widen? – how the concept of themselves and their place in the world gets fixed – and how they then get tested.

So I’ll say it. I bloody love this play. It means the world to me. It’s where I found my voice; the play in which I shed notions of how a play must be written that I’d held for a long enough time; the play that suggested I was maybe, just maybe, mastering this slippery craft. I could go on, bore you rigid – I won’t, I’ve said more than enough. Words can kill things as much as enlighten.

David Harrower
Cove, Argyll
October 21st 2009