Gate Theatre presents IMAGE OF AN UNKNOWN YOUNG WOMAN by Elinor Cook: Theatre Review

One of the many things I love about theatre is its infinite variety. I love that, one week, I can be sat watching something as subtle and moving as Now This Is Not The End and the next, I am thrust into a throbbing black box in Notting Hill bearing witness to Elinor Cook’s erratic protest play, Image Of An Unknown Young Woman. It is noise, violence, revolution and wrath. And with an unusually large cast of eight ripping through an assortment of characters collectively embodying everything worth being angry about in the world, there is little comfort to be sought here.

Ali (Ashley Zhangazha) has taken a video of a young woman being shot by police during a protest and posted it online. It’s gone viral and now he’s experiencing the repercussions of unleashing such a storm. Cook’s play is set in an unnamed state under an undisclosed totalitarian regime, but there are some obvious crossovers between that society and ours. Rallying cries of ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and ‘I Can’t Breathe’ are replaced with ‘We are All the Girl in the Yellow Dress’, with the same girl becoming a symbol for victims of the establishment everywhere. Image Of An Unknown Young Woman asks the thorny question of how messy do things have to get before we sit up and pay attention – why does it take a video of a girl being shot in the stomach to provoke an uprising? Is the answer that we are not as easy to shock anymore?

The characters in Image can be defined by two objectives: either they want a cause to believe in or they want a cause to blame. The play takes a kaleidoscopic look at how images can be appropriated by both agendas to galvanise or discourage the masses. It also draws increased attention to the act of something becoming viral and the visceral connotations that this has – how a single image can spread like a deadly, devouring disease and infiltrate entire systems of power and belief.

The play’s use of multiple characters and story threads is perhaps a little excessive; making a few nips and tucks here and there could simplify this and provide more clarity generally. But the production is peppered with great performances, particularly from the cast’s female contingent: Susan Brown, Eileen Walsh, Wendy Kweh and Anjana Vasan play their impassioned roles with integrity and conviction. The play’s break-neck changes of pace leave your head swimming and your pulse racing as you hurtle through the minefield of Cook’s fascinating script, translated into an effective, three-dimensional universe by director Christopher Haydon. Image Of An Unknown Young Woman is unrelenting in the power it exerts over the audience, facing us with question after question and home truth after home truth. Sharp and significant, it tears at your consciousness and demands you to listen.


© Hannah Roe, 2015



Playing at the Gate Theatre

11 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 3HQ

Closes 27th June


Monday - Saturday evenings at 7.30pm

Saturday matinee at 3pm


Director – Christopher Haydon

Designer – Fly Davis

Lighting Designer – Mark Howland

Sound Designer – George Dennis

Production Manager – Michael Ager

Assistant Director – Lynette Linton

Design Assistant – Magdalena Iwanska

Stage Management – Katy Munroe-Farlie & Emma Nairne

Cast – Susan Brown, Eileen Walsh, Oliver Birch, Wendy Kweh, Emilie Patry, Isaac Ssebandeke, Anjana Vasan, Ashley Zhangazha

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