The Skriker, by Caryl Churchill

Burton Taylor Theatre, 6th - 10th June 2000

It's often very difficult to encapsulate easily what a Caryl Churchill play is about. The epithet uncompromising is very frequently seen coupled with this British playwright's name. Her work is heavily influenced by the practices of experimental and physical theatre: not one to make it easy for an audience, she prefers to tell a tale in a challenging, sometimes meandering way.

The Skriker, perhaps one of Churchill's most acclaimed works, is also certainly no walk in the theatrical park. The title character (portrayed by Alex Shimo-Barry) is a wicked sprite that can metamorphose, chameleon-like, into different guises. Two young women - the mentally disturbed Josie (Rachel Fishwick), and her pregnant friend Lily (Kathryn O'Connor) - become the focus of the weird, jabbering sprite's attentions. She is particularly fixated upon the latter woman and her baby.

Yes, this synopsis is indeed skeletal. You will, however, be lucky to extricate much more of a plot from the often nonsensical, onomatopoeic chains of dialogue that Churchill places in the skriker's mouth. And I have no quibble with this: the play is a rude, often lyrical evocation of primordial, primitive emotions and fears. It is more ritual and masque than coherent narrative. Director Emma Lindsay clearly realises this: the underworld chorus wear beautifully wrought paper-maché masks, and mime and physical theatre are employed. Unfortunately, however, Miss Lindsay doesn't manage to translate this realisation into on-stage spectacle; she doesn't manage to evoke the raw, dangerous forces that Churchill's incantatory poetry suggest.

The dramatic culprits are not hard to find. On the whole, the pace is languorous, and energy is often strangely absent. The mime and physical theatre are untidy and sometimes clumsy. At times, the chorus creates interesting tableaux vivants; at times, however, they distract from the main action on stage. Scene changes are also inexplicably slow. It's a pity that this production's inability to create a convincing, compelling sense of myth and ritual detracts from some good individual performances. Shimo-Barry certainly deserves praise for transforming herself convincingly into a plethora of different characters; however she does not succeed in sending a shiver down the audience's collective spine. The scenes between Lily and Josie are well portrayed: both O'Connor and Fishwick make these characters convincing and interesting.

Churchill - like her cigar-wielding namesake - is a hard taskmaster. Despite its flaws, this production offers a rare introduction to her not inconsiderable oeuvre.

Jean Meiring, 6 / 6 / 00