Greenwich Theatre is launching in at the deep end of the theatrical pool by choosing three of Caryl Churchill’s short plays as its post-lockdown opening production. It’s a big, brave, bold move by the theatre that should have stage-starved punters salivating and for which the artistic team should be lauded. They've named the trilogy Bad Nights and Odd Days, which perhaps describes not just the plays, but what we are all emerging from.
A powerful, moving evening of live theatre - the kind of evening that we have all been missing so much
Few contemporary playwrights are more renowned or controversial than Churchill; her works are notoriously demanding and are not to be taken on lightly. She is now aged eighty-two, yet in 2019 still managed to write four plays. Director James Haddrell has fearlessly chosen works from an earlier period for this triple bill. Abortive, was originally a radio drama written in 1971 and later adapted for the stage. Seagulls was completed seven years later, after she had gained acclaim for Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976) and Vinegar Tom (1976). Haddrell’s third choice, Three More Sleepless Nights was first performed in 1980, wedged between two of her most celebrated works, Cloud Nine (1979) and Top Girls (1982). As Greenwich Theatre observes, these plays explore ”life-shattering events, a carousel of shifting relationships and the presence of psychic phenomena, blending the personal with the political, the naturalistic with the supernatural, the spoken with the unspoken”.
Abortive, not surprisingly, revolves around an abortion. As complicated as that can be, Churchill throws rape and a strained marital relationship into the melting pot of doubts and mistrust.
Three More Sleepless Nights has elements of a mini La Ronde, but it’s not just those in the bed who are overlapping. It’s in this play that Churchill first used her now famous technique of one actor talking over another that characterised the famous dinner party scene in Top Girls. The conversations here are as tangled as the wrist-slitting relationships.
Seagulls is the tale of an otherwise ordinary housewife who discovers that she has telekinetic powers. Determined to make the most of her new-found gift she decides to make a showbiz career out of it. If learning of her powers was initially troubling, the fear that she is now losing them amidst being exploited, is even greater cause for concern.
Full casting is still to be announced, but Paul McGann, the eighth incarnation of Dr Who, is already in the wings waiting to take centre stage. With a running time of ninety minutes and no interval, Greenwich Theatre has created what should be a grippingly intense experience.
Commenting on the reopening of the theatre and the decision to put on plays by Churchill, Haddrell said, ”We are delighted to be emerging from the last year of closure. I am excited to be able to share some of her earliest, most rarely performed work. With special permission from Churchill herself, I know that this collection of intimate, quietly heart-stopping dramas will offer a powerful, moving evening of live theatre - the kind of evening that we have all been missing so much”.
The season runs from Wednesday 23rd June – Saturday 10th July 2021.