Orange Tree, Richmond, London (****)
Comprising Heart’s Desire & Blue Kettle
This revival of Caryl Churchill’s 1997 Royal Court original is another grand example of the astuteness of Paul Miller. A co-production this time with Bristol’s acclaimed Tobacco Factory Theatre, such collaborations have allowed him to take many more risks than would probably have been the case going it alone.
And the remarkable thing is that despite Miller having cast his net wide with new work from some of the edgiest writers around such as Alistair McDowall, Alice Birch, Deborah Bruce, Chris Urch and Brad Birch, Churchill’s nearly twenty year old play still seems more audacious than any.
Churchill has never stopped reshaping or redefining what theatre can mean in today’s society. Watching Blue Heart you realise that Churchill is the great atonal modernist, the Schoenberg of theatre. She shapes her plays for form to match content.
So family dissonance in Heart’s Desire becomes fragmentation – a story constantly uprooted from its moorings by distress, argument, anxiety, apprehension, repeated over and over again in different patterns, each piece of the jigsaw sliding away from its previous appearance until towards the end, we almost…almost…get the straight narrative.
A family are awaiting the arrival from Australia of their daughter – a mother, father, slightly demented aunt and dishevelled son.
Fail and fail again, as Beckett might have said as Amelda Brown’s Alice sets and unsets the table a dozen times whilst Andy de la Tour’s Brian prowls, Amanda Boxer’s Maisie launches into a speech to which no one listens and Alex Beckett’s Lewis enters drunkenly or with bespattered trousers. Enter also at one point, deliciously, a proud emu! Absurdity sits alongside infinite, possible scenarios and pain, each layering adding to the other.
An extraordinary challenge for any cast, repeating but not quite repeating themselves, Churchill emerges in Blue Kettle in even more audacious form as conman Derek (Beckett again, sympathy oozing out of every pore) lays claim to four different women as his biological mother who gave him away at birth.
The human trick is here mirrored by Churchill beginning to substitute `blue’ and `kettle’ into their conversations until, at the last, unmasked, Derek and Amanda Boxer’s first mother, Mrs Plant, face each other uttering merely syllables: `bl, bl, k, k, k’, as if the words themselves had lost all meaning and the ability of their speakers to utter them.
David Mercatali directs with a fine ear to Churchill’s, as with Beckett and Pinter, latent humour, discipline and rigour.
Bewildering but unquestionably bracing, like a good douse in cold water.
Blue Heart runs at the Orange Tree Theatre to Nov 19, 2016
Review first published on this website, Nov 3, 2016
By Caryl Churchill
Brian: Andy de la Tour
Alice: Amelda Brown
Maisie: Amanda Boxer
Susy: Mona Goodwin
Lewis: Andy Beckett
Young Woman: Tracy Lee Sharples
Derek: Alex Beckett
Enid: Mona Goodwin
Mrs Plant: Amanda Boxer
Mrs Oliver: Amelda Brown
Mrs Vane: Janet Henfrey
Mr Vane: Andy De La Tour
Miss Clarence: Maroussia Frank
Derek’s mother: Gillian Axtell
Director: David Mercatali
Designer: Angela Davies
Sound Designer & Composer: Max Pappenheim
Lighting Designer: Chris Swain
Costume Supervisor: Bianca Ward
Casting Consultant: Vicky Richardson
Assistant Director: Andy Bewley
Sound Associate: Richard Bell
Fight coordinator: Jonathan Howell
An Orange Tree and Tobacco Factory Theatre co-production
First perf of this production at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol, Sept 22, 2016
First perf at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, London, Oct 13, 2016