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Image of an Unknown Young Woman

Wendy Kweh in Image of an Unknown Young Woman at London's Gate Theatre. Photo: Iona Firouzabadi Wendy Kweh in Image of an Unknown Young Woman at London's Gate Theatre. Photo: Iona Firouzabadi

Elinor Cook’s bold play explodes into the intimate space of the Gate Theatre, defiling everything and everyone in its wake.

Cook’s world is one of civil war, manipulation, betrayal, media-fuelled activism and ambiguous morality. We see a young couple torn apart by a seemingly small act of defiance, a British woman trying to align her own pain with that of the people burning abroad and a desperate daughter trying to find her mother in the ruins.

Image of an Unknown Young Woman powerfully calls Syria to mind but reminded me too of the fury and powerless frustration felt at home. Cook shoots it through with a sharp wit that pierces the tension, albeit sometimes uncomfortably.

With so much going on it can feel messy and although Cook does a good job of showing the grey areas in war, at points it’s a little preachy. But the questions it throws up refuse to be easily shaken.

Christopher Haydon’s visceral production grabs its audience by the throat and won’t let go. His superb cast tackles this highly emotive but potently theatrical material with total conviction. Fly Davis’ deceptively simple design frames the chaos in a utilitarian aesthetic that’s both fascistic and anarchic; neither the rulers nor the people are completely untarnished here.

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Disturbing and ambitious play that explodes into the Gate and takes no prisoners
Honour Bayes is a freelance arts journalist who has written extensively for The Stage and had work published in the Guardian, Independent, Time Out, Exeunt Magazine and The Church Times. She is currently Associate Editor on Chinese arts magazine ArtZip and has worked as web editor for the Royal College of Art, managing its arts and design coverage.