- Miles Hedley
BAD NIGHTS AND ODD DAYS at Greenwich Theatre
They may be 40 to 50 years old but, as a brilliant new Greenwich Theatre production of four of Caryl Churchill’s early plays reveals, they are as relevant today as ever.
The quartet, collected under the title Bad Nights And Odd Days, were written between 1971 and 1980 and prove that Churchill is not only one of our greatest but also most prescient playwrights with subjects that range from existential angst, imploding relationships and sexual politics to ecological catastrophe. Sound familiar?
An ensemble cast of six – film star Paul McGann, Kerrie Taylor, Verna Vyas, Bonnie Baddoo, Dan Gaisford and Gracy Goldman – turn in virtuoso performances that add flesh and feeling to Churchill’s wonderful words, with director James Haddrell guiding us expertly through the emotional minefield at the heart of the human experience.
The evening opens with Seagulls which centres on Taylor as a shop assistant who is catapulted to global fame when she discovers she has the power of telekinesis. Taylor is superb as she struggles with a collapse of self-belief that threatens public humiliation but also the alluring chance to return to a “normal” life away from the spotlight.
Three More Sleepless Nights is a triptych featuring toe-curlingly realistic turns from McGann and Goldman as a couple tearing each other apart and Gaisford and Vyas as a pair whose desperation culminates in his verbose sci-fi obsession and her terrifyingly silent wrist-slitting. The third part then hints at some kind of resolution – but you just know it isn’t going to be a happy ending.
After the interval, McGann joins Taylor for Abortive, a brutal vignette about a wife who has just had an abortion after being raped by a man her husband had earlier tried to help. It soon becomes plain that not everything is quite as it seems, the sense of doubt beautifully captured by McGann and, even better, Taylor. A special word of praise, too, for set designer Cleo Pettitt for the rain sequence.
The show ends with what for me is the highlight of the evening - Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen which is set in a world overwhelmed by environmental disaster. It could not be more apposite. Vyas is simply sensational as a woman with perseveration – presumably caused by pollution-induced brain damage – desperately trying to make a life with an older man (Gaisford, pictured top with Vyas) whose daughter (Baddoo) is a famous singer who has given away all her money to worthy causes rather than her needy dad. It’s a nightmarish vision of an apocalypse that’s as much emotional as ecological.
Bad Nights And Odd Days, which runs till 10 July, is a great show, a real feather in the cap for Haddrell and Greenwich Theatre. I do, though, think it would have benefited from being shorter, ideally a three-play package. That’s not because the evening in any way drags – quite the opposite, in fact – but Oxygen is so great both in concept and performance that it deserves the whole of the second half to itself. This is, however, a mere quibble an overall I can‘t recommend this production highly enough.