I went to see The Skriker at the Pilch with no real knowledge of what I was going to see – I vaguely knew that it was about a demonic monster – and, I must admit, I came out not completely sure of what I had just witnessed. If this seems like a criticism, let me be clear that I mean it as quite the opposite: Blank Canvas Productions have taken an inscrutably odd play and created a thing of beauty, an engaging and compelling piece of drama that slowly unfurled into layers of meaning.
For anyone who hasn’t read or seen Caryl Churchill’s play before, it tells the story of two girls, Josie and Lily, and their interactions with the Skriker, a mischievous, shape-shifting fairy who feeds off their wishes. Throughout their dealings with the creature, both girls have to fight to keep a hold of their sanity and their friendship.
At its heart, The Skriker is a play about friendship, and the emotional depth is delivered by the self-sacrificing Josie (Imogen Allen) and the frail and vulnerable Lily (Alethea Redfern). Allen is full of a frantic energy as the slightly unhinged Josie, but truly commands the stage with her stillness. Meanwhile, Redfern gives an excellent performance as Lily, retaining throughout a hesitant willingness to believe in her own goodness. The Skriker is played by three actors who each take on one of the fairy’s metamorphoses, but combine vocally and physically in a creepy mass that forms the creature herself. All three (Kate Weir, Will Spence, and Anushka Chakravarti) deserve praise for their spectacular rendering of the rapid wordplay of the Skriker, whose ramblings resemble a fusion of beat poetry and quick-fire rap. As a trio, these actors work tremendously well, and their individual performances are well realised and captivating. Spence juggles humour and pathos with skill, talking cheerily of the apocalypse as Lily’s boyfriend; Chakravarti is superbly cheeky and endearing as a child in a park; and Weir delights as an American woman asking about televisions (it sounds weird, but trust me, it’s brilliant). This is an ensemble piece, and the ensemble dynamic is what makes it excellent. It is clear that director Mary Higgins has worked hard to foster a generous performing environment, and the perfect slickness of the night must be attributed to her direction.
The strength of the performances is definitely the highlight of this production, but its design deserves praise for setting a suitably creepy (but also ostensibly welcoming) tone. The clouds floating above the stage give an ethereal quality to the set, while perhaps presaging coming storms. In addition, set designers Virginia Russolo and Will Rees use a number of latex screens to great effect, to offer grotesque sightings of the Skriker in the ‘real world’ setting of the play. Ed Maclean and John Paul deserve praise for their haunting soundscape, featuring jumbled mash-ups of pop songs to represent aurally the shifting appearance of the Skriker.
This is a play about bewitchment and manipulation, and this theme is carried to the full in terms of the audience’s experience. The play cast its magic over me completely: even now, I can’t get Nina Simone’s ‘I Put a Spell on You’ out of my head. If you’re looking for a post-Halloween haunt, look no further than The Skriker.