Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review: 'Bad Nights And Odd Days' at the Greenwich Theatre, 25 June 2021

Bad Nights and Odd Days reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

As the dreary lockdown months stretched on I struggled with the itch that only theatre can scratch: breathing the same air and occupying the same space as fictional characters, traveling to watch a story play out without distractions, the communal thrill of experiencing emotions as an audience.

But beyond all that is the simple fact that theatre gets a lot more intense than most other media. Enter the Greenwich Theatre's Caryl Churchill quadruple bill, Bad Nights and Odd Days. This brings together four short plays dealing with (among other things) rape, abortion, suicide, and environmental apocalypse. 

After the nightmare year we've had you might shy from the idea of spending two hours shut in a room with series of traumatised and isolated people, but Churchill's writing seamlessly pirouettes through sincerity and farce. One second you're shivering at the raw dialogue of a couple struggling to cope with sexual trauma, the next you're giggling at their bourgeois pretensions.

Dan Gaisford as Mick

You can't slide a Rizla between Churchill's changes in tone, which are common to all four plays but best displayed in Three More Sleepless Nights. This does exactly what it says on the tin: a nocturnal daisy chain of bad relationships featuring characters played by Paul McGann, Verna Vyas, Dan Gaisford, and Gracy Goldman. 

In one of the 'nights', a woman has a creepy disassociative episode. It plays out like dream logic: she speaks in confusing fragments, eventually clutching a carving knife and talking about suicide. It's unnerving, tense, and eerily realistic. All that's offset by her partner who is amusingly oblivious, recounting the plot of Ridley Scott's Alien just to have something to say. 

Laughing while also being freaked out is my kinda vibe and Churchill's plays feel as if they're getting away with stuff they shouldn't.

Also impressive is that despite all four being written in the 1970s they feel alarmingly contemporary. That's on fine display in the dystopian Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen, which takes us to a smogged out future London where the air is poisonous, the economy has collapsed, and the human race faces extinction. It's a timely apocalypse, particularly as its theoretical future maps well onto our microplasticky, nitrogen dioxide-saturated present.

Kerrie Taylor as Roz

It means we end on an appropriately ominous note, as hope strolls offstage and leaves the characters locked down in a tiny apartment facing an ambiguous future. Oh well, the theatres are back open, so even if we'll soon be coughing up fistfuls of pulped lung from a new variant at least there'll be somewhere to go in the evening.

COVID is responsible for my only real criticism: social distancing rules mean the audience has to be spread out over a large theatre, which is at odds with the intimacy of the drama. Way back in Row L I was myself wishing I was sat down in the front row so I could watch every subtle bit of body language and facial tic from this great cast. 

I also spent quite a lot of the show looking at the large piece of scenery in the background. It was interesting enough - variously resembling a rollercoaster track, piece of industrial machinery, or dinosaur skeleton - but I couldn't for the life of me work out what relevance it had to the plays. Maybe it's just there for aesthetic reasons to spice up the stage?

Whatever the case, theatre is back, baby. Kudos to the Greenwich Theatre for choosing this misanthropic show as their big debut: it'd have been easy to come back with crowd-pleasing escapism, but there's something palpably 'now' about Churchill's plays post-pandemic. 

Bad Days and Odd Nights is at the Greenwich Theatre until 10 July. Tickets here.

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