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Caryl Churchill at her absurd, terrifying, visionary best in this obscure 1997 revival
Kettle kettle blue. Blue kettle. Blue. Ket. Kettle. Blue blue. Kettle. Kettle. Ket. Blue.
If I were to be a real arse I could write this whole review in the style of ‘Blue Kettle’, one of the two short plays making up Caryl Churchill’s rarely-seen double bill ‘Blue Heart’. In it, the words ‘blue’ and ‘kettle’ inexplicably override the dialogue in an already fascinating story about Derek, a con man who somehow tracks mothers who gave their sons up for adoption and poses as their long-lost offspring.
I won’t, but it might be easier than trying to comprehensively dissect a typically audacious work from Churchill, whose writing is so utterly unlike anybody else’s it sometimes feels closer to magic than actual playwriting. Is there an emotional need at the root of Derek’s behaviour? Do the ‘mothers’ really not know? Is the breakdown of language a manifestation of guilt or something more complicated? It’s dazzling, unapolgetic stuff, another sign of how brave the Orange Tree has gotten these days.
It’s paired with ‘Heart’s Desire’, a piece both funnier and bleaker in which two elderly parents wait for their daughter’s return from Australia, a scenario that’s played out 27 times with wildly different - in some cases, utterly surreal - permutations. It is funny, often intensely silly, but there’s an icy undercurrent to it, a sense of hopeless dysfunction and failure underpinning the relationships, despite how totally outlandish some of the scenes are.
Churchill's writing is so virtuosic that it dominates everything. But the wrong director could screw it up easily, and David Mercatali’s production is excellent: precise, playful and tough. The excellent ensemble rise to the exorbitant technical demands but also the weighty emotions semi-submerged in the wry, haunting otherness of Churchill’s works.