Last time I saw a quartet of Caryl Churchill plays presented together they were all new, and showing as Glass.Kill.Bluebeard.Imp at the Royal Court.
Four neglected short plays by Churchill comprise James Haddrell’s Bad Nights and Odd Days, which is currently playing at the Greenwich Theatre.
Focusing on the darker side of Churchill’s world, this show is quite an investment for the audience, running at well over the advertised two and a half hours. It brings together universal themes of unease, violence, exploitation and miscommunication.
Only one of these plays was presented on stage at the time it was written (Three More Sleepless Nights, in 1980). The opening piece, Seagulls, had to wait 35 years for its full staging in 2013, and the other two, Abortive and Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen, were written for radio in 1971.
Promoted heavily on the involvement of Paul McGann in the cast – he is one of six actors who appear across the four pieces – Bad Nights and Odd Days has brought these lesser-known pieces back at a time when theatres have returned keen to experiment and to challenge their audiences.
Each actor appears twice across the quartet: Kerrie Taylor stands out as both the nervous mentalist in Seagulls, and the wife in Abortive who perhaps saw a way out from a marriage which seems fine on the surface, but reveals itself as the play progresses.
Verna Vyas has two very contrasting roles – excellent as the hyperactive Vivian in futuristic tale Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen, and effective as the wife having a breakdown in the second scene of Three More Sleepless Nights.
Fifty years ago, it must have seemed entirely possible that the world of ‘the Londons’ depicted in Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen, where the air is so polluted no-one walks in it and even the birds have left, could happen.
Dan Gaisford’s brightly-clad Mick lives in one room, his only diversions doing jigsaws and watching the TV news with his friend Vivian. His daughter Claudia (a restrained and measured Bonnie Baddoo) is coming to visit.
Seagulls was written in 1978, when the likes of Uri Geller, spoon bender, were household names. We find Valerie on the eve of a tour and trip to Harvard for her gift to be assessed, but a visit from a fan, Cliff (Baddoo) shakes her faith.
There is a lot of humour in this piece, and a fine performance from Gracy Goldman as Di, Valerie’s former colleague at M&S turned manager. I wondered if Cliff had been written as a male fan: if so, the behaviour they exhibit is even more odd.
In Three More Sleepless Nights, we eavesdrop on three couples at bedtime. Margaret (a thoughtful reading from Goldman) and Frank (McGann in macho, working man mode) bicker; Pete (an earnest Gaisford) and Dawn fail to connect, leading to catastrophe; Margaret and Pete seem to be heading towards the mistakes of their previous relationships.
Abortive is a very strong, complex piece. McGann is perfectly suited to the role of aspirational Colin, who is far from the affable man he initially appears.
Dealing with rape and consensual non-consent, this is a groundbreaking piece for its time (written in 1971), with building unease enhanced by an on-stage rainstorm.
The design team of Cleo Pettitt (set), Stevie Carty (lighting) and Sades Robinson (costumes) firmly set us in a space at least a couple of generations ago – we can’t see the garish wallpaper, the fondue set, or the chunky hi-fi, but we know they are there through suggestion.
This is a show in which Churchill’s close observation of ordinary people shines through, brought to life by a talented company of players and a sympathetic director.
Bad Nights and Odd Days runs until 10 July. Book your tickets here.
Image credit Lidia Crisafulli
LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to review Bad Nights and Odd Days.