The Skriker – Caryl Churchill, the Royal Exchange Manchester, July 2015


Working in Manchester in July, I was fortunate enough to get tickets for and see Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker at the Royal Exchange Theatre with Maxine Peake in the starring role.

It is a linguistically virtuoso play and that was a key attraction for me, as well as the staging and naturally Peake’s performance which had received rave reviews. Having seen it for myself, these were abundantly deserved, not that they were ever in question.

The language bombardment is thrilling as well as beyond absorption. The Skriker’s opening soliloquy, for example, challenges Lucky’s famous speech in Waiting for Godot for its relentless pace and volume of words, but the playfulness is unique in my experience. And although one gets attuned to the punning and repetitions in the Skriker’s mesmerising dramatic idiolect, that doesn’t mean one is always following the meanings, though the idea of semantic sense as a given would be to miss the point of only picking up on sound and impression and suggestion and meaninglessness: how does one make sense of the world we live in?

I’ll highlight a few examples of the wordy playfulness to give an aural flavour:

scissors seizure seize your sizzle
snap crackle poppet
changeling changing chainsaw massacre massive
Dollop gollop fullup
ointment disappointment

and including the grammatically ramshackle yet working lines like

Roast cats alive alive oh dear what can the matterhorn piping down the valley wild horses wouldn’t drag me

and this is just the tip of a whole other world iceberg.

The most dramatic point in the play is about halfway through and it is the sheer imagination and presentation of the moment that matters. I have no idea how gloriously this has been done before and elsewhere, but at the Royal Exchange, it was truly stunning. Whilst there are notes from Churchill to set the scene, its realisation is completely open to interpretation. The action is a feast in the underworld populated by an array of ‘lavishly dressed people and creatures’ and the Skriker as a fairy queen.

In this production I was so privileged to see, the stage was transformed into the most colourful and loud and grotesque and noisy and busy episode. In addition to those ‘people and creatures’ the stage was also invaded/filled with a chorus of singers and the sound of the whole was breathtakingly beautiful in its orchestration and volume.

This scene was, as they say, worth the admission price alone. It and the whole play lickety split me in two with the stink bombastic of its linguistic and dramatic prowess.

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