You wait for a Caryl Churchill play, and just like London buses, four turn up all at once with two interludes featuring a juggler and a contortionist. Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. directed by James McDonald, is a quartet of plays by the revered octogenarian playwright at the Royal Court Theatre. Sloane Square is a familiar setting for Churchill, her most recent play Escaped Alone, opened at the same venue to critical acclaim before it transferred to New York. Many of her plays which first premiered here are now considered modern classics including Top Girls, A Number and Far Away.
The plotline; A girl made of glass; Gods explaining the logic behind man’s inhumanity to man and murders with forensic detail; A serial Killer’s friends reminisce about their aristo friend whose eight brides met a macabre end; And finally, an imp in a bottle, but who is brave or foolish enough to let it loose?
A mantlepiece suspended in midair is the floating start to the evening as we see right through the vulnerabilities and fragility of a girl made of … Glass. Let your imaginations run wild, but spare a moment for her mother’s anguish: “The trouble we go to. The deep mats on the floor from when she was tiny. There’s cracks, your eye isn’t accustomed, but we can see the joins. Bubble-wrap when she goes out.” Churchill returns to familiar themes; child abuse, domestic violence, misogyny and feminism throughout the play.
A lot of black humour lubricates the monologues in Kill and the dialogue in Bluebeard. In the former, the Gods, played unflinchingly by Tom Mothersdale, we are dragged kicking and screaming through the orgy of senseless killings and bloodshed. Even, the Gods have to stand by and let a curse run its course. “They are cursed, those twin brothers … we can enjoy a curse, why else would one of them kill the other’s children, bleeding them on the altar, drawing their guts out …”
In the latter, friends of a psychopath serial killer debate why they never suspected anything was amiss … “All those weddings … all those failed marriages. Because killing them’s one thing, but keeping them like that, a collection, like butterflies or tigerskins, or paintings. It saved disposing, I mean cutting up, digging …” How do you dispose of a castle belonging to a serial killer? “Does murder put the price up or down? Guided tours. Movie locations. Weddings?”
Relief comes, mercifully, at the end. At least nobody died in Imp. Just a genie let loose on the world to do some good. And everyone lived happily ever after.
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. until 12 October 2019 (royalcourttheatre.com, 0207 565 5000)