Paul T Davies reviews Caryl Churchill’s Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. now playing at the Royal Court Theatre, London.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp.
The Royal Court.
25 September 2019
Four new plays from one of our greatest contemporary playwrights which could be subtitled An Evening With Caryl Churchill; each play has a sublime premise. A girl made of glass, Gods and people, (each played by one adult actor and one child actor), the Gods sitting on a cloud, the people drawing and crossing pictures out, the friends of Bluebeard shocked that their mate is a serial killer, and cousins who share a flat that houses a dark secret- they live with an imp in a bottle. Churchill has a deserved reputation for pushing the theatrical envelope, cutting it with a paper knife and forensically creating unforgettable stage pictures with precise, defined text. Her signature style is very much in evidence here, but what these plays primarily reveal is her glorious, mischievous sense of humour.
The notion of a girl made of glass allows us to question female image and the gaze, and the invisible woman. Kwabena Ansah, Louisa Harland, Patrick McNamee and Rebekah Murrell play the short with confidence, including a hilarious sequence when they are a clock, a red plastic dog and a vase that sit alongside the girl on the mantelpiece. In Kill, The Gods, (Tom Mothersdale), outline the enjoyment they have had inflicting punishment on the people, but that begins to be soured when People, (Caelan Edle on press night), perform ever more violent acts in the need to kill; as the child wipes out every drawing he creates. The evening really begins to lift with Bluebeard’s Friends, with Deborah Findlay and Toby Jones taking to the stage, alongside Sarah Niles and Susie Rimi, and the line “Horrified to learn my friend Bluebeard is a serial killer”, sets up a superb satire on celebrity and the glamorisation of violence, with the dresses of the killed women becoming much sought after. The themes of the evening and connections between the pieces are made clear by James MacDonald’s innovative direction, served well by designer Miriam Buether’s almost music hall framing, jugglers and trapeze artists entertain us during the scene changes.
However, the first act feels like a curtain raiser for the main event, Imp, which, at fringe festivals, could stand alone as one piece. The superb pairing of Deborah Findlay as Dot, struggling with rage and ill health, and Toby Jones as Jimmy, running to stave off his depression, make this a joyous experience, there’s nothing Jones doesn’t know about comedy timing. Their faces also show us the sadness they keep at bay, focussing their energy on their cousin Niamh, (Harland once more superb) and her relationship with Rob, (Mothersdale), a homeless man they occasionally bring in for a cup of tea. The revelation that Dot may, or may not, keep an imp in a bottle, explores notions of belief and superstition, and embracing the evening’s theme that we are at the mercy of forces beyond our control, and it’s a playful and amusing play.
Enjoyable as the evening is, however, the pieces begin to feel slight, and stakes are never raised too high. In Imp, the opening of the bottle and the wishes made never have extreme consequences, what happens may have just happened anyway? And as the evening goes on the earlier pieces begin to feel more inconsequential, and, for me, this doesn’t reach the heights of vintage Churchill. But, that aside, it’s still Churchill, audacious, thoughtful, original writing beautifully performed by an excellent ensemble, with many moments that will have you laughing out loud.
Until 12 October at The Royal Court Theatre