Pro’s: Two exceptional Caryl Churchill scripts
Con’s: Committed but inexperienced actors
With thousands of shows competing to make an impact in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it’s a bold move for a student ensemble to dive into the fray, pitching their production up against veterans and professionals.
The young players of the University of Greenwich’s Bathway Theatre Company deserve kudos for taking the plunge with a pair of challenging Caryl Churchill plays. They realise this project with no shortage of commitment and considerable technical flair, but there’s no hiding the inexperience of the cast, or the distancing effect of early 20somethings playing characters twice their age or older. The students don’t by any means disgrace themselves, but the true selling point of this show is Churchill’s daring and mischievous scripts.
In Heart’s Desire, the return of a woman who’s been living in Australia is anticipated in different ways by her parents and aunt. But this domestic set-up is mere scenery. Churchill’s interest is in playing with and distorting conventional narrative structure. Punctuated by a re-set chime, scenes are replayed multiple times, sometimes identically, then with increasing difference and new elements. The effect is fascinating and disconcerting. By the fourth time the doorbell rang to announce the daughter’s arrival, I had no idea who – or what – might appear…
The second play, Blue Kettle, has an adopted man attempting to scam a number of women who he convinces are his biological mother. But again the devil is in the detail of how Churchill breaks with the established norms of theatrical storytelling. In this case, certain words are replaced by “kettle” and “blue”. Seemingly unnoticed by the characters themselves, for the audience this is at first mildly bewildering, and grows from there into something strange and startling. When any blue you thought might be a kettle, it becomes almost blue to kettle what to think…
I’m sorry to say I don’t think I was in the presence of any acting stars of the future, but the cast are at the very beginning of their careers and have ample time to prove me wrong. I wish them luck, and in the meantime Churchill’s extraordinary plays are definitely worth a look, brilliantly wrong-footing the audience and demonstrating why she’s held in such high esteem.
Writer: Caryl Churchill
Producer: Bathway Theatre Company
Playing until: August 18
Booking link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/blue-heart