Presented in a single evening, Churchill’s new quartet of plays at the Royal Court dig into the relationship between the stories we tell ourselves, and contemporary news. It is easy to simply view the plays as about stories alone - however this is to do a disservice to Churchill’s omnipresent political commentary pulsing through any of her work.
Glass is about a teen girl who is made of glass; she sits atop the mantlepiece amongst the other beautiful things, to protect her from the harshness of other youth. Her emotions are visible to others, and despite her family’s efforts to protect her, she is vulnerable once she connects with someone, who is also troubled. Perhaps it is because I am the mother of a teen, but this piece shouted for me about the dangers of trying too hard to protect our children from the realities of the world.
Kill is a classic Churchillian dark monologue. Told from the point of view of a Greek god who recounts the story of a family who murder and fight amongst themselves across generations, simultaneously recalling the founding stories of Western civilization rooted in violence, and the impact of generational trauma. He is joined on stage by a child who draws, and occasionally repeats his words; this simple inclusion underscores the relationship between how children learn to see the world and the stories they take in both intentionally and unintentionally.
Bluebeard begins with friends at a dinner party, gossiping about a mutual friend who has been discovered to have committed some crimes. These crimes are macabre in nature, and the discussion moves from the point where they distance themselves from this friend, to beginning to explain his behaviour, to where they have managed to justify it. In the post #MeToo moment, the play forces the audience to reckon with the moral gymnastics many people do in order to continue to be friends with someone or to enjoy their art.
Finally, Imp is the longest, and initially the most naturalistic of the four plays; two older cousins who live together entertain a niece and a young friend. The conversations are absurd in the way that most awkward extended family conversations can be; until it is revealed that the woman, Dot, believes to have an imp who does wishes captured in a bottle. Throughout the play the characters opinions of one another and of the related relationships oscillate, as they tell themselves stories to help understand their world. The introduction of the imp merely amplifies the focus on the fact that often we need stories, however fantastical, to get by.
The cast are outstanding, and director James MacDonald cleverly manages the tempo of the scripts perfectly - not only within themselves, but across the evening. The addition of circus performers between the first and second, and second and third plays proved ingenious - a necessary yet haunting sorbet which visually represented these same mental and moral gymnastics we all perform to keep on.