As a big fan of Caryl Churchill’s work it is a joy to see a thoughtfully curated selection of her short plays on stage at the Greenwich Theatre. Some being radio plays, it is an exciting opportunity to experience the lesser known works of a playwright who is the definitive voice of the 80s on matters of womanhood, relationships and capitalism under Thatcher’s rule. An ensemble piece, actors appear in multiple plays, creating messy and enjoyable links between the scenarios.
The highlight of the show came in the last play of the four, Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen. It is contemporary to say the least and an excellent choice by the director, James Haddrell. We see a messy, tired flat where an older man is awaiting a visit from his famous and estranged daughter. Written in the 70s and set in the 2010s, it is shocking to see certain elements ring so true. Rather comically, Vivian, played by Verna Vyas, keeps spraying oxygen out of a can as they struggle to breathe in the cramped environment. Out of the window, she can also see multiple tower blocks on fire. There is a clearly disastrous divide between the rich and poor, as people must pay incredible sums of money just to be allowed to have a child. The circumstances of the Grenfell disaster, the panic and symptoms of COVID and China’s previous one-child policy are all predicted in this play. Dan Gaisford is truly excellent as Mick, as he is saddened and maddened by his daughter’s choice to give away all her money — his daughter being his last hope at living a life that bears any resemblance of civilisation.
Unfortunately, the lighting design is poor. Night scenes in bedrooms are extremely dimly lit, which is an unimaginative way of portraying the time that only harms the visibility of the actors. At one point, a spot on the bed results in a shadow completely obscuring an actor’s face. In my opinion, this shows disregard for the actors and the importance of facilitating their work in the production. In Abortive, the third play, a shower of rain falls on stage, wetting (but not managing to drench) an actress. It is a little gimmicky, and perhaps a little lascivious, but it is in line with the sexualised discussions within the play.
Three More Sleepless Nights is totally engrossing, as we witness the late-night arguments and dynamics between three formations of couples. I say ‘formations’ as once the first two couples fall apart, one partner from each couple forms another. At first, we have hope that they will have progressed into a healthier relationship. Yet, we only see the same old ghosts haunt them once again. Gaisford shines again in this, tragically wittering on about film plots without listening to his partner.
Haddrell does do Churchill’s magnificent words justice in this production, but some casting and design choices do leave something to be desired. Overall though, it is a shrewd decision to produce such incisive writing that is so relevant to today. With Bad Nights and Odd Days, Greenwich Theatre reintroduces its live theatre with serious aplomb.
Bad Nights and Odd Days is playing Greenwich Theatre until 10 July. For more information and tickets, see Greenwich Theatre’s website.