The Top Girls playwright’s latest collection of plays are big ideas told on an imaginatively small scale – ★★★★
The Royal Court’s production of Churchill’s short scripts is a wild ride through the mind of their long-term collaborator. For those unfamiliar with the writer’s work, it’s a short, odd glimpse into the wide range of Churchill’s creativity, with tales about gods, a woman made of glass and a secret old bottle. Realistic characters find themselves in wholly incredible scenarios.
It’s a juxtaposition which only lends itself to surrealist humour. As the curtain rises on a new unknown performance, a lot falls on the characters to quickly diffuse an eery sense of uncertainty and tension which builds across the collection. “I knew a man killed his wife because he thought she was having an affair and it turned out she wasn’t”, the opening line of the final play of the set, Imp, is one fine example. With the whole of the second act dedicated to the tale of an old secret in a bottle, the characters are fleshed out to a greater extent than the other plays. Perched on her armchair with veiled cynicism, Dot (Louisa Harland) despises success and latches on something to believe in. Meanwhile Sherlock star Toby Jones, no stranger to eerie roles, plays the stilted and creepy run-loving uncle with a haunting awkwardness.
Given more space and time to breathe, the narrative of Imp is more elaborate than fleeting, and far less rushed than the mythology monologue that is Kill. Although told with humour by Tom Mothersdale, perched on an impressive cloud design by Miriam Buether, it rather ironically fails to come across as down-to-earth.
As with any collection of plays, there comes the question of whether Glass, Kill, Bluebeard’s Friends and Imp have any wider connections. Whilst there isn’t a connecting narrative, motifs are present throughout on matters of existence, fantasy and violence – the latter being particularly present in Bluebeard’s Friends, where acquaintances of a serial killer approach the situation with dark humour. The themes are ambitious and extensive, yet told through creative minimalism under James Macdonald’s direction and Buether’s set design. Actors never leave the small staging, only revolve around their very small environment. In the case of Glass, it all occurs on a suspended platform.
The contradiction of surreal stories being tightly told still does well to preserve the striking fantasy of it all, but much like the characters being dumped into scenarios, there’s a feeling that we have been thrown four modern fantasies for us to process later (the impressive, albeit repetitive circus performances between plays unfortunately don’t allow us time to contemplate). It’s fine for the critics and big thinkers searching for the bigger meaning. For the more passive audience member, it’s an unusual, creative spectacle.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. is now playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 12 October.
Production Images: Johan Persson.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.