Saturday night was a trip to Sloane Square and the Royal Court, to see four new pieces by Caryl Churchill. Churchill was responsible for the wonderful Top Girls, revived at the National Theatre earlier this year, and her play Far Away is to be revived at the Donmar next year.
The new pieces were originally planned and advertised as a trio of short plays: Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Later, an additional, and longer, play called Imp was added, making a night of shows which link together large themes and small considerations. There are even circus acts (a juggler, and a balancer) which entertain between set changes with a sense of the vaudeville, and are worth the admission price in themselves.
Glass concerns a girl who is literally made of glass (we never know why, and the piece is so short, we don’t have time to question). She’s first introduced as a sort of parlour trick, standing in front of a window, then as a freak, wrapped in bubble-wrap, prone to cracking.
Whether this is a metaphor for physical or mental weakness (her boyfriend has to deal with a difficult home life), or simply a commentary on superficial beauty (the second scene has the glass girl displayed on the mantelpiece with other objects chosen for their sentimental or aesthetic value), is unclear.
Glass – the substance – is beautiful. It catches the light. It is sharp, fragile, and quickly shatters. It holds mysteries, like this short play intrigues and opens the quartet.
Kill involves a god sitting on a cloud (Tom Mothersdale), and a child sketching (Leo Rait on the night I saw it, not Caelan Edie who is pictured above). Neither acknowledges the other, and the child occasionally shouts out words while he draws. The god goes through a variety of myths and revenges, deadpan, slowly building from a position of curious interest in the people below to an outburst pleading for the bad things done in the name of religion to stop.
I found this piece the weakest of the four, both in writing and execution, bordering on pretension, although as part of a sequence it fits well. The effect is more frustrating than anything else, and I could not really see why the character of the boy was there (the sins of the father?).
Bluebeard is a much stronger piece: a group of friends discuss the ramifications of finding out their friend isn’t just a serial widower (“all those weddings”) but a brutal serial killer who has left the bodies of previous wifes hanging in their blood-stained dresses in a locked room.
Quickly, they move from horror at the murders and slight sadness at the plight of the brides, to a modern take on opportunism, tourism, voyeurism, and profit. One friend (Toby Jones) buys the dresses, which hang oppressively at the back of the stage. One (Sarah Niles) muses on the potential of the castle as a holiday destination experience. One (Deborah Findlay) wonders whether models of the dresses should have the option of having stains, or not.
It’s a cool and well-paced piece, which toys with issues of female vulnerability and primal human impulses.
Imp is a collection of scenes in a suburban living room, in which two middle-aged cousins, a widower and a divorcee, live together, with not much going on. She sits in poorly matched and garish clothes, he occasionally goes out to run.
When their distant cousin arrives from Ireland, they see it as their destiny to take her into their lives, but attempts to meddle with her friendship with a local homeless man backfires when magic is invoked.
I enjoyed the Shakespeare references about local characters (“that lad whose uncle killed his father”), and it was good to see the chemistry and camaderie between co-stars Toby Jones and Deborah Findlay.
Imp is pleasingly dark and pulls together what we saw in the first half of the evening: a glass bottle holds a secret, an old woman has the impulse to kill, there are discussions of failing marriages, there’s an intelligent boy (unseen) whose future is unknown.
If I could change one thing, I’d remove the interval, which would leave the evening at a palatable two hours, and keep a bit of continuity between the pieces.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. continues at the Royal Court until 19 October 2019, directed by James Macdonald and designed by Miriam Buether. Photo credits Johan Persson.