The Skriker

by Caryl Churchill. I read this in one sitting in the Morrison Reading Room while taking a break from research papers. It was a surreal, disturbing break that reminded me of why I think Caryl Churchill is one of the top playwrights in English.

The Skriker is a “shapeshifter and death portent” who haunts and torments Josie and her pregnant film Lily. Josie, in the mental hospital, wishes the Skriker on Lily, and it is then that the play really takes off into its tale of compassion betrayed. The world of the play is inhabited by spirits who dance in the background and mime out British folktales. The Skriker relentlessly pursues Lily, almost strongarming her into making wishes in order to gain more power over her. She wants Lily’s baby, an in her various guises tries to become its godmother and its sister. The ending as I imagined it is unspeakably horrible, although a lot depends on the staging.

As an aside, it felt much like a Neil Gaiman Sandman story staged because of its fast and looseness with the darker side of folklore and the inexplicable actions of the Skriker. These characters followed a mythic objective which is not rooted in the standard psychology of naturalistic theater. And because of that, their needs could be more terrible and their actions more extreme.

The fact that only three characters speak and yet there is so much action on stage gives the whole play an air of malevolence — the world is a strange and oppressive place, and demons constantly tempt us by playing to our sympathies and then trying to replace those we love. It is difficult to imagine writing this play without extensive prior experience in integrating music and dance into theatrical productions, and Churchill points this out in her introduction to the third volume of her collected works. Still, there are things to learn about how to get right to the point of a scene and use concurrent action to explain the text rather than belabored exposition via dialogue.

Much thanks to Eddie Kohler for pointing me to read this play.

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