Far Away & Seagulls
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Until June 8
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Caryl Churchill is, as this double-bill of her work attests, simultaneously one of the most exciting and most exasperating of modern playwrights. The ambiguities of her poetic and politicised theatre are continuously invigorating. However, she also has a propensity to metaphorical excess which pulls one’s suspension of disbelief, like an overstretched elastic band, to breaking point, and then beyond.
Such is the case in Far Away, an extraordinary, futuristic dystopian vision which is reminiscent, not only of Orwell and Huxley, but also of PD James’s novel Children Of Men. This is a world in which children are disturbed by acts of brutality in lorries in the middle of the night; young hat makers are employed in making headgear for macabre parades of zombified, condemned people; and, ultimately, the entire planet – from the nations and professions constructed by humanity, to the animals and, even, the forces of nature – is at war against itself.
In this final scene, Churchill’s absurdism transcends that of Ionesco or Jarry, sending itself hurtling to the ground. Which is a tremendous shame, as this dramatic defect does great damage to director Dominic Hill’s otherwise searing production.
A veritable tour de force in both design and technical terms, the scenes open up, with noisy, mechanical precision, from within a huge metal container. Kathryn Howden’s Harper answers her young charge’s questions about the incident in the lorry with a terrifying equivocacy, while Alasdair Hankinson (an impressively sophisticated young actor) and the talented Lucy Hollis compel as the hat makers.
There is something bathetic in pairing such a visionary play with Seagulls. Although beautifully acted (by Howden, Hankinson and Maureen Carr), this piece about the public failure of a woman who purports to be able to move objects by means of psychic power, is, by Churchill’s standards, very modest fare.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on June 2, 2013
© Mark Brown