Review: The Skriker, Royal Exchange

“No mistake no mister no missed her no mist no miss no”

As my dear Aunty Mary used to say, by the crin! Sarah Frankcom’s production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker is a properly gobsmacking piece of work, the kind of theatre that leaves you reeling from its sheer audacity, its free-wheeling inventiveness and a general sense of what-the-fuckery. Maxine Peake’s acting career has been far too varied for a peak to ever be declared (though for me, Twinkle ftw) but it is hard to imagine her any more hauntingly, viscerally, intense than she is here, wrapping every sinew of her body around the often bafflingly complex wordplay and utterly owning it with an authoritative otherworldliness.

There’s a plot. Kind of. Though it is literally, and physically, hard to follow. Frankcom has lavished huge amounts of creativity onto the show and empowered her creatives to be daring, so that it becomes akin to an art installation in how densely visual it becomes. Imogen Knight’s choreography haunts every scene as an ensemble of 12 keep a strange and kinetic energy coursing through the theatre, Jack Knowles’ artistically inspired lighting playfully pulls the perspective one way then the other, and Lizzie Clachan’s reinvention of the physical space of the auditorium has to be seen to really be believed (book the stalls, seriously) as it rewrites the rules of engagement.

For what it’s worth, the Skriker is an ancient faerie, a shapeshifter who toys with the lives of human as it longs for what it cannot have. It has alighted on friends Josie and Lily, the one locked away in an asylum for killing a baby and the other, pregnant herself, trying to rescue her. Sat around tables instead of the traditional stalls, we’re thrust right into the world of the institutionalised in all its horror but in the hands of the Skriker, we soon ricochet between locations, between promises, between realities, as she manipulates both girls to a glorious, climactic, banquet sequence in the deevil’s native underworld, whereupon the table-dwellers are dispatched to the sides and an ethereal choir arrives.

Lavish being the keyword, the music is composed by Nico Muhly and Antony (Hegarty, he of the supplementary Johnsons) and delivered beautifully by the community choir to  enhance the specialness of the whole affair. It’s not the kind of theatre to visit in search of narrative, or clarity, or any easily-discernible measure of meaning, in the conventional sense at least. The predictions of apocalyptic doom (of the environmental kind, rather than the Harry Potter play kind…) have a pressing power to them which could perhaps resonate a little stronger but there’s something just beautiful about the verbal and visual cacophony here that is genuinely breath-taking. Never mind Peake’s Hamlet, this is the production, the theatrical experience, that ought to be screened far and wide for all to share in, not that it could ever hope to capture the uniqueness, the difference, of its very being.  

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Jonathan Keenan
Booking until 1st August

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