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Preview: Anatomy of a Suicide at Berliner Ensemble

Non-morbid trigger warning: Alice Birch's acclaimed play premieres tonight, Thursday October 28, at Berliner Ensemble's Neues Haus. Our stage editor looks at what to expect.

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Anatomy of a Suicide: This 2017-penned piece by British playwright Alice Birch won her the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Photo: © JR Berliner Ensemble

An exploration of the effects of having a mother who commits suicide and whether trauma can be passed on through DNA, this 2017-penned piece by British playwriting powerhouse Alice Birch won her the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The 1978-established annual international award recognises the outstanding work of female playwrights in the English language. Birch, born in 1986, had already twice been nominated for the award – in 2011/12 for Many Moons and in 2014/15 for Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., a play written in just three days – before her third time lucky.

Berlin is no stranger to Birch’s work: her Ophelias Zimmer (Ophelia’s Room) premiered across town at Schaubühne in December 2015, Orlando in 2019. She’s perhaps best known worldwide for her 2020 television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, alongside Rooney herself and writer Mark O’Rowe, as well as for the TV series Succession, and her screenplay for the 2016 film Lady Macbeth.

In Anatomy of a Suicide, the intertwined stories of three generations of women play out simultaneously on stage: mum Carol tries to keep going for her daughter Anna, but kills herself when Anna is just 16. Anna goes on to live in a commune (a detail borrowed from Birch’s early life), becomes addicted to drugs and suicides just after her own daughter’s birth. The third generation, Bonnie, fights to free herself from inherited depression and the fatal family pattern with emotional autonomy and radical self-determination. Will it be another case of third-time lucky?

This staging brings together two prize-winning practitioners: video design star Bahadir Hamdemir, alongside Dutch director Nanouk Leopold, well known for her film work, and should make for some visually engaging theatre.

Anatomy of a Suicide, Berliner Ensemble, Oct 28-29, Nov 6-7, Dec 14-16. In German. D: Nanouk Leopold / German Translation by Corinna Brocher