Review: Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp.

4 star rating
Caryl Churchill's quartet of new short plays offer something of a mixed bag, Imp being the longest and best with a superb performance from Deborah Findlay and impressive support.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. at the Royal Court

Image courtesy Royal Court



Closes here: Saturday 12 October 2019

Author:
Caryl Churchill

Director:
James Macdonald

Cast:

Kwabena Ansah

Caelan Edie

Deborah Findlay

Louisa Harland

Toby Jones

Patrick McNamee

Tom Mothersdale

Rebekah Murrell

Sarah Niles

Leo Rait

Sule Rimi


Synopsis


“I can see her just. Most people can't see her at all.”


A girl made of glass.


Gods and murders.


A serial killer's friends.


And a secret in a bottle.


Four stories by Caryl Churchill.


Background


Caryl Churchill's most recent play Escaped Alone, opened at the Royal Court to critical acclaim and transferred to New York.


Many of her plays which first premiered at the Royal Court are now considered modern classics including Top Girls, A Number and Far Away.


Director James Macdonald's recent work for the Royal Court includes One For Sorrow, The Children (and New York), Escaped Alone (and New York), and The Wolf From The Door.


ActDrop reviews


Eugenia Ziranova

Performance date: Saturday 28 September 2019
Review star rating image

Caryl Churchill was a resident dramatist at the Royal Court before I was born.


She is now 81 and still a hot ticket writer.


Earlier this year, the National Theatre returned to her classic - Top Girls - from 1982, and now the Royal Court presents 4 of her new, short plays: Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp.


Not directly connected, all the pieces revolve around the supernatural and macabre.


Glass pleased with refreshing surrealism, still relatively rare in theatre.


A girl made of glass, transparent and fragile, encounters child abuse in another family and selflessly rushes to help.


For my taste, Glass lacked some tempo.


Kill is a rattle-through of the curse of the Atridae, told by one of the gods (I did not figure out which one - perhaps Apollo) played by Tom Mothersdale, who floated on a pretty realistic cloud over the head of a drawing child (presumably, Orestes).


No names were mentioned, but you can catch an ivory shoulder (Pelops), a war hero murdered by his wife and her lover (Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus), the sacrifice of a daughter to secure luck in war (Iphigenia), the murder of a half-brother (Chrysippus), a stolen wife (Helena), unmatched idyllic friendship (Pylades) - in fact, the whole Oedipus-Antigone collective.


I cringed halfway through because I generally detest fetishisation of Old Greek and Roman fairy tales.


When it became clear that the miseries of the house of Atrides are re-told not for recognition but for the sheer picture of the carnage, it became easier, but only a touch.


The approach that "Old Greek myths are blood-soaked" is not astonishingly new, so, to whom is it addressed - to people who do not know classics at all or simply to have a cute condescending educational trip?


Bluebeard fared way better because it brought an old story to a modern setting. 


A group of middle-class friends learn that their pal was a serial killer.


Their thoughts are running in all directions:

What shall we feel about it? Where were we looking? What shall we do now? 


The group ends up with setting up a Bluebeard-themed amusement park with "women-empowering" bloodstained dresses as merchandise.


Middle-class, you do not disappoint.


The last piece, Imp, is the longest and best.


Two old, poor cousins (Deborah Findlay and Tony Jones) invite two visitors to their flat - their niece and a homeless guy who sleeps in the nearby cemetery.


When it becomes clear that the niece and the homeless guy have become 'an item', the cousins feel that they need to correct the course of events, first with gentle notes, and then with a secret weapon - an imp which lives in an empty bottle and is supposed to fulfil wishes.


Deborah Findlay (who was in the cast of the Top Girls premiere on the very same stage in 1982) was superb.


Her armchair-bound character was particularly real: caring, and angry as hell, dreamy, suspicious and, oh boy, what a nasty witch.


Toby Jones's character is soft, peaceful, with a touch of mischief, but quietly glowing with kindness.


Tom Mothersdale and Louisa Harland were equally impressive.


The acting redeemed some mildly annoying cheating with plot and I could have watched these four for a full 8-episode series.


A detail I particularly liked was the visual representation of the homeless guy.


It's quite difficult to sell a healthy body as a rough sleeper, but Tom Mothersdale was clothed in denim a few sizes too big, armed with a tissue for a "running" nose, and in a sedentary position - worked perfectly.


Oh, and yeah - stage design. Wow.


Islands of light glowed in pure darkness, without any mesh curtains or dim lighting.


In a smallish venue, where the audience is sitting right next to the stage, it looked quite extraordinary.



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