Blood-drenched mythology, #MeToo monsters and surreal domesticity intertwine in this quartet of curiosities by Caryl Churchill.
Directed with lashings of visual flair by James Macdonald, each play feels distinct yet work cumulatively to create a satisfying whole.
The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs stage is framed by lightbulbs like a giant dressing room mirror. The effective lighting design by Jack Knowles places every scene within against a pitch black void, creating an air of unease.
The intrigue of the titles carries through into the works themselves. Imp, the longest piece, is preceded by three shorts (which are separated by a juggler and a balancing act).
The opener, Glass, is the most enigmatic of the four. It features a conversation between a clock, a vase and a toy dog on a mantelpiece, while a girl made of glass (“she looks like people look”) encounters a scene of child abuse.
In Kill, the character of Gods (Tom Mothersdale) recounts gory stories from Greek myth while sitting on a cloud, smoking. Below him a child scribbles furiously in a book.
The allegory thickens in Bluebeard’s Friends, set at a dinner party in which the attendees engage in fractured exchanges about a friend-turned-serial killer. “He was good at stories and we always believed him,” says one. “And he played the piano so beautifully,” observes another. Many of the lines echo those that have been said in the context of the #MeToo revelations. In the background hang six blood-stained dresses, like headless corpses.
The final play features four actors from the previous plays. Deborah Findlay is scarily good as Dot, a chair-bound ex-nurse with temper issues who keeps an imp in a bottle. The ever-excellent Toby Jones plays her creepy cousin Jimmy, who runs obsessively to battle depression. There’s strong support from Louisa Harland as their niece Niamh and Mothersdale as homeless Rob.
While Imp feels slightly overlong, it has the richest characterisation and the sharpest lines. I loved Jimmy’s casual allusions to plot lines from Shakespeare and Oedipus. Dot’s rage during one scene gave me goosebumps.
In my notes, I scribbled down a line from Bluebeard’s Friends which pretty much sums up this whole, intriguing theatrical event. It’s said by Toby Jones during a debate about turning the blood-stained frocks into a marketing opportunity:
“So that’s quite noir.”
Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. is at the Royal Court until 12 October