Sunday, 2 April 2017

Review The Skriker

The Skriker
by Caryl Churchill

The Goblin Free Market

Ropes of algae hang from the ceiling - like tresses of hair from Grimm fairytale princess Rapunzel but also like  an entrance into the forehead of the young woman, Josie (Briony O'Callaghan), sitting at the bottom of the uneven plaits. 

The warehouse space at The Styx becomes a ragged stage with several banks of chairs for the audience at angles to the shadowy, sunless playing space.

First produced in 1994, Caryl Churchill's modern fairy tale intertwines cascading words, a discernable everyday world and a dark, choreographed ancient underworld. At the same tim traces of folk tales and other literature including Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market inhabit the tale.

Josie, it seems, has been incarcerated in a mental home for infanticide, the killing of her new born baby.

It's worth noting that infanticide is a legal definition formulated in Victorian times directed at women. It has the unusual distinction of being both a crime and a defence, a woman who has committed an evil act, but also a mother possessed by lunacy.

Churchill, we think, pursues this duality, a recognisable world alongside destructive, poisonous spirits. 

Between Josie, her pregnant friend Lily (Jenny Swingler) emerges The Shriker (Phoebe Naughton), a mythical shape-shifting goblinesque wild and amoral spirit and also a portent of death. She's a patient with Josie, a fretful child, a piece of furniture, a potential boyfriend for Lily,

The Shriker is a creature also both caught between and stalking the two women as Josie seeks in her desperation to shift The Shriker away from her at any cost.   

The play works like a dramatic verbal and choreographed symphony (rather like a feminine theatrical equivalent of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, "haveth childers everywhere") ebbing and flowing,

It swirls together the elements of a world askew, psychologically, politically, economically and environmentally, a Midsummer Night's Dream without a happy ending 

Despite some inventive design and a hard working cast of almost mute sprites and spirits, it did strike us that perhaps this production was over concentrating on the look, to the detriment of the text.  

This production certainly benefits from Phoebe Naughton's dynamically malign Shriker as she slips from shape to shape. Callaghan as Josie also gives a thoughtful, intelligent performance with moments of touching vulnerability.

Meanwhile Swingler as Lily brings clarity with a down-to-earth maternal instinct amid an upside down world, tending her baby in an ominously black cradle swinging from a tree branch. 

But this also feels like a work-in-progress. There's the potential of a powerful dramatic nightmare picture book quality in the design of David Curtis-Ring. However we were often left literally in the dark. 

Indeed, we felt that less might have been more in this kind of space, allowing the audience its own mental space to think about and follow the text and choreographed parade of grotesques. It's a lower range amber light for an overemphatic production which  nevertheless has some striking moments.

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