Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
WHAT IF IF ONLY – how many times must that have been said of a best beloved who has died. If only I had, what if this or that hadn’t happened?
Caryl Churchill back at the Royal Court, Linda Bassett – with John Heffernan and in the hands of James Macdonald – back at the Court.
My first visit there in about two years. It felt so strange. And yet the same.
And Caryl’s play, written a year before her best beloved died, takes no prisoners. 17 minutes only in length, situated in Miriam Buether’s white muslin textured box – a room with no features, Heffernan, a glass of red wine before him, wracked in sorrow – tells of grief and hope and possibility. And annihilation. Personal and environmental.
Churchill has never been one for convention; she breaks ground all the time. And you will be hard put to extract total comprehension at one sitting. It is absurdism, abstraction – and yet in the hands of Linda Bassett – it is a glorious cloudburst of hope.
There is a moment of sheer theatrical wonder eclipsing all the months of inaction as she enters. The beam that spreads over her face would lift any soul to heaven. She speaks of possibilities, of futures, of ghosts, of being made `to happen’.
Heffernan’s grieving partner could make her `happen’, could make a future, make her solid – but he does not know how. Do we? do we know how to save our planet? Could we have done things differently?
Unpeel What If If Only for yourself, and its enigmatic possibilities. Another director might have made some of it more tangible, `realistic’. Macdonald – and I suspect Churchill herself – will have none of it. Work it, work it out…but see that beam and know all will be well.
Jasmine Nyenya or Samir Simon-Keegan
Director: James Macdonald
Designer: Miriam Buether
LightingDesigner: Prema Mehta
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt
Assistant Director: Grace Duggan
Video Content: Isaac Madge
Casting Director: Amy Ball
Lighting Supervisor: Cat Roberts
Sound Supervisor: David McSeveney
Lead Producer: Catherine Thornborrow
A Royal Court production
World premiere of What If If Only at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London on Sept 28, 2021
Review published on this site, Oct 4, 2021
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