Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. at the Royal Court Theatre
It’s an undoubted, indisputable fact that Caryl Churchill is a genius. And while Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. might not be her best, it’s not far off. A fable-filled revue, the theatrical version of reading a short-story collection, it’s a four-course meal with each dish better than the last.
The evening begins on a shelf. Floating in the middle of the stage – all the plays take place in front of an inky black background – a boy introduces his friend to his glass sister (Rebekah Murrell). For a moment it’s like Churchill’s version of Toy Story, the mantelpiece filled with anthropomorphic objects. The girl’s fragility is obvious, her feelings clear for all to see; as the short piece goes on we are reminded that for many, such hurt remains hidden, the damage irreparable.
Though a slight start, Glass neatly sets out the plane Churchill wants us operating on. Kill drives it home harder. But only after a juggling break to cover the set change.
Sat on a cloud, watching a young boy scribble with increasing aggression, Tom Mothersdale’s deity treats us to a potted history of the complicated family tree of the Greek classics. For what better way is there to highlight humanity’s propensity for violent nonsense in the service of non-existent gods than the stories of Orestes, Agamemnon and co.? Mothersdale is bored, his retelling almost admin – that’s until it all gets a bit much, the knotted guts and rotting bodies prompting pleas for us to stop.
Another quick(ish) change – this time with a mighty strong acrobat to act as a distraction – and we’re at a dinner party. Hosted by Bluebeard’s Friends. They’re in shock; they’ve only just heard about his wife-killing proclivities. What follows is the most topical play of the bunch: what do you do with all your lovely memories of a monster? After all, “do you think only good people have friends?” Slightly awkwardly staged by James Macdonald, it touches on unpleasant accusations; the merchandising of trauma; and the kind of ironic distance that violence can be treated with, the sort that sees people turn up to Halloween as Charles Manson or Jack the Ripper.
Despite the piece being split into three parts, there is a great sense of cohesion to the first half. Riffs and retellings of fables and myths, those that tap into our goriest depths. Things slightly shift in the second half. Imp doesn’t abandon the focus on violence, nor a touch of the fantastical. The presentation, however, is different; more fleshed out and domestic. It could easily stand on its own.
In the odd story of cousins Dot (Deborah Findlay) and Jimmy (Toby Jones), their sort-of-niece Niamh (Lousa Harland) and her homeless paramour Rob (Mothersdale), there’s a lot of talk of belief, how easy and dangerous it is to slip into. And youth. And regrets and secrets. It’d be borderline traditional if it wasn’t filtered through Caryl Churchill. It’s easily the best of the lot, with rich, wickedly funny turns from Jones and Findlay and a great straight-man performance from Harland.
Photos: Johan Persson
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. is at the Royal Court Theatre from 18th September until 12th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.