Stunning Caryl Churchill plays at Royal Court – at 80 years old

Caryl Churchill at 80 is a playwright at the top of her game

Last night I went to see Caryl Churchill’s linked plays Glass.Kill.Bluebeard.Imp at the packed Royal Court Theatre. The plays were rich, formally inventive and evocative, but that’s what I expect from all her plays. As a whole, they riffed on myth and legends of violence, superstition, and female rage. Between the first three plays, a single female performer either juggled batons, or balanced on two sticks, to beautiful classical music, a performance which was suggestive of female empowerment, strength, agility and grace. These were a provocative and beautiful antidote to the rage and fear represented within the plays themselves – if rage could be channelled into art, it could be transformed.

Vicky Featherstone, artistic Director of Royal Court, writers that Churchill “influences writers in terms of ambition and encouraging their fearlessness. She’s the one that they want to be, the one they learn from. When they’re struggling, they read her plays and it gives them courage. She is regarded as the ultimate playwright, no question.”

debbie tucker green, for example, was a stage manager on Churchill’s ‘Far Away”, an experience which was a game changer for her own writing.

 Poster from Royal Court production
Royal court poster

The four plays here lasted 2 hours 20 – much longer than the last play I saw of hers, the brilliant, terrifying and hilarious ‘Escaped alone’

Terror and humour were in abudnance here. ‘Glass’ was set on a mantlepiece, and centred around a girl made of glass’ – and the play explored fragility, bullying, abuse and mental illness – with a riff in the middle in which the four young actors became a plastic dog, a clock, a glass ornament and a vase. It was laugh out loud funny but the ending was shocking and visceral with shattering glass. The themes of violence and retribution continued in the second play, a monologue by ‘Gods’ about the furies of violence throughout the ages, with echoes of Medea, atrocities of war, even Cain and Abel and even Hamlet – it was almost a Beckettian monologue which I found it very challenging to listen to. Specific stage directions are not attached to the script – giving free range to a director. Bluebeard was a dinner party of friends whose friend Bluebeard, had just been exposed as serial killer, and his throat cut. they recalled, by name the brides. The script has no names attached to dialogue – and no stage directions – giving director and actors freedom and range. James Macdonald had the bridal dresses with blood floating up from beneath the stage, to hang behind the action. There was a thrilling moment where books fell from the sky and the female character cut them up in rage at the violence towards women in them.

The last, and longest play, Imp, with Deborah Findlay and Toby Jones as cousins , made brilliant use of al single prop – a bottle, so that I actually believed there could be an imp inside it.

I was thrilled to see Caryl Churchill in the audience – at 80 she is still inventive, thrilling and outrageous as a playwright – a role model and inspiration to me, a writer still at the top of her game. I fantasised about a beautiful office space in which her imagination takes flight, full of theatrical self confidence and understanding of the possibilites of stage.. How can I create this mind space?

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