Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. at the Royal Court: ‘a commendable quartet’
It’s a real treat to be able to go to the Royal Court and see not one but four new plays by Caryl Churchill. Directed by James Macdonald, these pieces all reflect on the nature of storytelling and the mythologies that have occupied our culture since literary culture began.
It’s not just the Royal Court that’s producing Churchill’s work. The National Theatre staged Top Girls earlier this year and early next Far Away will be at the Donmar Warehouse. And there’s no better time: Churchill’s plays examine the ways in which history makes it mark in the present, and at such a turbulent time there’s no better time for UK audiences to be considering both their past and present.
Reading the text of Glass,the first piece performed, Churchill is emphatic in her pointer about the central character, the Girl Made of Class: ‘There should be no attempt to make the glass girl look as if she is made of glass. No effects making her seem invisible, etc. She looks like people look.’ So begins, on paper (the very thing that is not theatrical), Churchill’s meditation on storytelling. Rebekah Murrell plays the above character with a fragile truth, exploring the piece’s touchingly simple evocation of youthful fragility.
In the second piece, Kill,Churchill explores the myths that provided some of the earliest plays. The Gods (Tom Mothersdale) sit above a young child drawing and offer a monologue to the audience that deconstructs the myths of Oedipus, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, and those immortal beings who plague the ancient epics. Miriam Buether’s set, an elevated cloud on which the Gods sit, captures the perfect blend of oneiric realism, whilst Mothersdale’s unfussy clothing and pragmatic delivery deflates the powers of the immortals. But, as with any deflation, there is also a counter inflation at work that makes them all the more powerful.
Bluebeard’s Friends continues the murderous themes of the previous piece by depicting four serial killer’s friends gathering. Together, they discuss in disparate episodes their friend and his unexpected actions. Ending the first half, Bluebeard’s Friends begins an exploration of the uncanny possibilities that lie dormant within us all.
These are short pieces, and Macdonald has a juggler and contortionist pad the in-between sections as the set is changed behind a red curtain. These forms of entertainment, in which lies the tension of spectacle and tension, reflect well on the plays and are ably performed.
In the final work, Imp,Dot (Deborah Findlay) and Jimmy (Toby Jones) look after the young Niamh (Louisa Harland) and support the homeless Rob (Mothersdale). It most closely resembles what we might expect from ‘traditional’ theatre, but it also ties together the themes of the other three pieces: Glass’s suspension of disbelief (the titular imp is said to be in a bottle and grants good luck), the importance of family and the past as seen in Kill, and the potential threat that lies beneath Bluebeard’s Friends. Macdonald brings together strong performances throughout the pieces, though it is Jones who shines as Jimmy. Findlay’s Dot is also laughably pitiable.
This is a commendable quartet and how great to see such variety across the two hours? These four plays all make us question the stories we hear and see every day with an ear and eye to the past. The underlying focus on storytelling that all four plays exhibit demonstrates a playwright at the height of her craft. More of this sort is welcome for such troubling times.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. are at the Royal Court until 12 October.
Photograph credit: Johan Persson