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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp.
Royal Court Theatre  Autumn 2019

Veteran playwright Caryl Churchill has written four short plays that individually might be very impressive as the work of a student playwright at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Put together in a full evening they still remain little more than impressive as the work of a student playwright at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As the work of one of Britain's leading playwrights, the evening must be accepted as left-handed throwaway stuff, skilfully made but adding up to little.

The opening piece, Glass, is the most delicate and poetic, as four young people imagine themselves to be ordinary household objects a clock, a vase, a knick-knack and a pane of glass. Slowly we sense these are their ways of protecting themselves from the world, by being strong, lovely, negligible or invisible.

It is a small point but it is made delicately and efficiently, and doesn't outstay its welcome.

Kill is the wittiest, essentially a monologue by an actor representing all the Greek gods and telling the story of the house of Atreus the long string of atrocities, revenges and counter-revenges leading up to the Oresteia from the Olympian point of view.

His attitude ranges from amazement at the human capacity for violence to amusement at the human capacity for stupidity, all with the comfortable distance of not really caring.

It is essentially an extended revue sketch, but a good one, and even raises thoughts of human political and military leaders who don't really relate to the people whose lives and deaths they affect. Actor Tom Mothersdale maintains precisely the right understatedly ironic tone to make this the strongest play of the four.

The third, Bluebeard's Friends, is by far the weakest, a single joke revue sketch extended beyond its natural length even at fifteen minutes. The nice middle class people who knew a man exposed as a serial killer move rapidly from insincere protestations of shock to finding ways of profiting from their connection to him.

The fourth, Imp, is an actual one-hour play, but one that is about very little and has very little to say.

A middle-aged couple with empty existences try to live vicariously through, and interfere with, the romance of a younger couple. It turns out that they can't really affect anything, even with the help of the genie they believe they have trapped in an old wine bottle.

A play about not much happening with not much likely to happen sometimes evokes thoughts of early Pinter, and Deborah Findlay plays the dim and dotty older woman as Meg from The Birthday Party.

Director James Macdonald is to be credited for seeing that each play required a different tone and style, and for guiding his cast which also includes Toby Jones and Louisa Harland to serve each in the best way.

But that doesn't make them add up to much.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp - Royal Court Theatre 2019
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