Writer: Caryl Churchill
Music: Nico Muhly &Antony Hegarty
Director: Sarah Frankcom
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
The Manchester International Festival is in full swing. The city a-buzz, full of live performances designed to blow your mind, and with so much going on, all aided and abetted by the glorious sunshine, Manchester is the place to be. However, Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker is here to send a chill through the festival and the hot summery nights.
Churchill’s play was written over 20 years ago and was first performed at the National Theatre in 1994. Looking at mankind’s destruction of the environment, but with themes of greed, envy and our own fractured morality, this holds as much relevance now as it ever did. Here we have an essay on how we are failing ourselves and our planet to suit our own selfish needs.
The play tells the story of two sisters, Lily and Josie (played by Juma Sharkah and Laura Elsworthy). Lily and Josie’s lives are on different paths, with the former heavily pregnant and the latter hospitalized. It is here that they meet the phenomenal yet sinister creature known as the Skriker (Maxine Peake); a wicked faerie from the Underworld whom has evil intentions towards our two siblings. With the ability to change form, the fairy uses various guises to trick the girls and will stop at nothing to trap them.
Peake is on imperious form as the eponymous Skriker, opening with an extraordinary yet absorbing soliloquy, she immediately sets the tone for the nightmarish journey we are about to embark on. Criss-crossing between the depraved underworld, and a modern day England falling apart at the seams. Peake morphs into various rôles, including the malicious sprite, a child in need of love and a fame hungry American business women. This is a towering performance that grabs you from the instant that she takes stage and she never lets you go. There are strong performances from the 3 leads, as we delve deep into their psyche and see their madness take hold of them.
Lizzy Clachan’s design uses the Royal Exchange’s unique surroundings to great effect. There is the full horror of an asylum, contrasting with the seemingly idyllic but equally hellish modern suburbia. The haunting melancholic soundtrack provided by Nico Mulvy and Antony Hegarty (Mercury award winners Antony and the Johnsons) works beautifully in conjunction with Imogen Knight’s feral choreography. Mid-way through we are treated to the play’s huge set piece, an underworld banquet in Josie’s honour, with the Skriker presiding over court while her band of demons work themselves into a frenzy. This is a staggering piece of theatre which will leave you speechless, very reminiscent of scene from a Peter Greenaway film.
Director Sarah Frankcom has collaborated with Maxine Peake on several occasions and this is definitely a partnership bearing fruit. Both are fully committed to this thought provoking, yet challenging script. Frankcom has created a vision of hell which is altogether unpleasant and shocking. The supporting cast are tremendous in working so hard, in what must be a great physical challenge for them all.
This is a thought provoking, challenging piece which may leave you with more questions than answers, but is definitely worth a watch.
Runs until 1st August 2015 | Photo: Jonathan Keenan