by Caryl Churchill.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 1 August 2015.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm no performance 13 July) Sat 8pm Mat 12, 13 July 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 55min No interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 July.
What does a skriker do? He, she or it (Maxine Peake’s features and clothing in the role could fit any pronoun), presumably, skrikes. Which sounds aggressive, fierce and ear-piercing, though this creation can be soft, seductive and coaxing. Just don’t rely on that continuing though. Caryl Churchill’s Skriker argues, persuades cajoles, threatens, torments. The women (mainly) and men who get skriked are often people finding their way alone through the processes of giving birth or sustaining life.
Not since Peer Gynt met with the Mountain-King’s trolls has there been such an encounter between humans and a supernatural that’s neither super nor natural. For all life here’s a compulsive cabaret of disorientated, off-putting existence. A Tourettes-ish dancer writhes constantly (if not always in full audience view), another character has a prominent ear growing aslant his forehead.
There’s constant movement; the Skriker acts and doesn’t reflect. In Sarah Frankcom’s enthusiastic production, Churchill’s shape-shifting character certainly gets to shape-shift the theatre, Lizzie Clachan’s set replaces stalls seats with plain wooden tables, such as serfs might sit at – at least, till moved (with surprising courtesy, given the context) by performers for an underworld show. These long tables are used, too, for a banquet, inviting and fearsome as the sudden provender in The Tempest.
Life’s a hell-night dive of sensual energy, as Peake, first seen lying vulnerable at a table as if after a rough night-out, is repeatedly discovered amid the dark environment by Jack Knowles’ lighting, seemingly a creature that manifests herhisitself at will. The music of Nico Muhly and Antony, sometimes violently active, elsewhere pulsing with steady anticipation, stokes the inferno.
Like quiet refrains, disappearing yet returning, Josie and Lily survive the Skriker’s assaults on their lives. Laura Elsworthy and Juma Sharkah are dignified in their resilient vulnerability, quietly noticeable in Frankcom’s production.
Which does all it can in this perpetual nightmare. But, for once, the playwright’s own famous shape-shifting, fitting form to subject, leads perilously towards the contrived feel of second-rate performance poetry or pop lyrics, with sense subjugated to the necessities of verse, or sacrificed to the glittering phrase. Frightening indeed.
The Skriker: Maxine Peake.
Josie: Laura Elsworthy.
Lily: Juma Sharkah.
Kelpie: Owen Whitelaw.
Yallery Brown: Stuart Overington.
Woman with Bucket/Nellie Longarms: Beatrice Scirocchi.
Passer-By: Alex Austin.
Telescope Girl/Dark Fairy: Hannah Hutch.
Green Lady/Jennie Greenteeth: Kaye Jackson.
Radiant Boy: Martins Imhangbe.
RawheadandBloodyBones: Harry Atwell.
Black Dog: Andrew Sheridan.
Hag/Woman at Bar: Jessica Walker.
Abnnis/Granddaughter: Sarah Amankwah.
Great-Great-Granddaughter/Lost Child/Dead Child: Leah Walker.
Director: Sarah Frankcom.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting: Jack Knowles.
Sound: David McSeveney.
Composers: Nico Muhly, Antony.
Musical Supervisor: Stuart Overington.
Choreographer: Imogen Knight.
Illusions: Chris Fisher.
Creative associate/Lead artist: Maxine Peake.
Associate director: Bryony Shanahan.
Assistant director: Alasdair Pidsley.