Caryl Churchill: a legend of British theatre. The kind of playwright whose voice writers all over dream of emanating in some small way, and yet she remains inimitable. Into her eighth decade on this earth, and still the coolest person in the Royal Court bar (and, I would argue, most rooms) by many miles. Now, she entices audiences with not one new play, but a whole quartet of politically-charged goodies, Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp.
First up is Glass, in which we are briefly but joyfully introduced to a mantelpiece of household knick-knacks come to life, including a girl made of glass. Played with dry wit and sensitivity by Rebekah Murrell, this glass girl is invisible, barely ever seen, and yet told that she’s taking up too much space. This short piece introduces the themes of violence, abuse and belief that flow throughout.
Next up – although not before a circus-style interlude involving a woman teasing the audience with an extremely impressive display of juggling – is Kill. Tom Mothersdale plays an all-seeing god, puffing on a cigarette and literally floating on a cloud as a child (Leo Rait) furiously colours below him. As he floats, he tears apart the violence and absurdity of Greek myths, whilst repeatedly pointing out that, actually, gods don’t exist. It’s a bizarre and delicious 15 minutes.
Last up in the first act – again, not before the appearance of an acrobat, who mesmerises as she contorts her body into all manner of incomprehensible, doll-like shapes – is Bluebeard’s Friends. Here, a discernibly middle-class group of friends drink red wine and discuss the fact that one of their friends has revealed himself as a misogynistic serial killer who’s murdered all six of his wives. Bloodied, sagging dresses hover unsettlingly above the group as they attempt to dissect the news, reflecting on the murderer’s charm and likeability. Bluebeard is a darkly comic look at apathy in the face of violence against women. When one of the friends (Toby Jones) remarks, “it doesn’t matter to me”; it’s an attitude that hits home.
Finally, and making up the entire second act (no more circus acts, much to my dismay) is Imp. Here, we meet Dot and Jimmy, a delightfully odd pair of humans – cousins, but not kissing ones, we’re told – played by Jones and Deborah Findlay. Jimmy jogs to combat his depression, Dot believes she’s got an imp with the power to grant wishes living in a glass bottle. She’s also got a seriously fiery temper that mostly stays under wraps – but when it rears its head, the audience’s stillness is palpable. Imp is the epitome of weird and wonderful, with the scales tipped in the direction of the latter. Findlay is exceptional as Dot, who is constrained to an armchair for the entire 50 minute piece. I cannot take my eyes off of her, and the way she bestows this character with a hundred different dimensions without ever even standing on two feet.
These four pieces exist within the striking, often other-worldly design of Miriam Buether (set) and Jack Knowles (lighting). Throughout the whole experience – and ‘experience’ is the most fitting way to describe it, I feel – characters and set float in darkness, appearing and disappearing as if by magic. Everything is lent a slightly off-kilter, three-dimensional quality. Direction by James MacDonald (assisted by Grace Gummer) is expert, bringing Churchill’s words to blazing, haunting life.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. is an unsettling, horribly funny, and unexpectedly moving foray into the mind of a woman who continues to cement her name as truly the best in the business.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. is playing at the Royal Court until 12 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Royal Court website.