Review: “Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp”

What a crowd! Young, old, stylish and staid…every kind of ‘we’ comes to the Royal Court Theatre these days – thanks in no small part to current Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone’s fresh and innovative programming.

This dexterous and impressive new play from the Grand Dame of British drama does not disappoint. It’s invigorating, macabre and funny!

Caryl Churchill’s quartet of plays explores some of the contentious issues that currently fracture our society, cleverly placed within a framework of the romantic myths, legends and superstitions that we employ to condone and facilitate cruelty and oppression.

“Glass” examines how we train our girls (portrayed by the excellent Rebekah Murrell) to be as fragile and invisible as glass, and our boys to be tough and show no fear or weakness. How our unrealistic expectation of our children and inability to listen to their fears and secrets diminishes and destroys them.

“Kill” asks the question: are we at the mercy of things beyond our control? A nonchalant Greek God (Tom Mothersdale) sits on a cloud and describes to a small boy the unending cycle of rampant ambition (necessitating incest, brutal murders and revenge) that happened when the furies were unleashed on the world. Parents raped, killed, sacrificed and ate their children and nothing was sacred…apart from the Gods.

“Bluebeard”: at a drunken dinner party, its walls garlanded with the bloodied wedding dresses of his victims, Bluebeard’s sophisticated friends bask in the reflected glory of knowing this recently exposed, misogynistic serial killer. They sit around, expressing their surprise, as… he was so talented, charismatic and powerful…unaware of their facilitation of, and complicity in his crimes.

These three short scenes are interspersed with female circus performers demonstrating their physical dexterity in juggling, balancing and acrobatics, serving a useful device for the set changes and as an allegory for a working woman’s life.

“Imp” is the longest of the four pieces, with a slower more reflective, almost ‘Pinteresque’ feel. It explores identity, status and superstition within the fractious relationship of two elderly co habiting cousins, affable, depressed Jimmy (Toby Jones) and Dot (Deborah Findlay) who hides a number of dark and alarming secrets.

Jimmy chats to various local characters (amusingly lifted from King Lear, Hamlet and Oedipus Rex) on his daily runs. Dot broods at home obsessing about her niece’s relationship with a homeless stranger.

Dot has a bottle with an imp inside it, which she believes would cause havoc were it to be released. One day, Jimmy opens that bottle…

James Macdonald’s confident direction ensured the intimacy and pace of this production, assisted by the deft characterization of its cast. Miriam Buether’s set was simple but dramatic. Special mention of Louisa Harland’s understated and convincing performance in two very contrasting parts.

“Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp”: on at The Royal Court until 12th October

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