The Skriker

On Thursday we went to see The Skriker, the latest production by The Royal Exchange in Manchester, written by Caryl Churchill and starring Maxine Peake in the lead role. The first two weeks of its run were part of the Manchester International Festival. However we saw it during it’s final week, after the Festival.

It wasn’t a conventional play to say the least. A cross between drama, dance, music and an art installation. Very surreal. The Manchester Festival is meant to be about presenting “edgy” and experimental works and this certainly fit the bill.

We had seats on the stage level, but there was no conventional seating. We weren’t sure what to expect. We were guided into the auditorium where there were long trestle type tables set out. We found seats and waited for the performance to begin. It all went dark and then suddenly we were surrounded by performers with actors walking on the tables. We were literally in the middle of it all with performers all around us and walking inches away from us on the tables where we were sat. During one scene when we were surrounded by a choir of zombies and with demons dancing all around the auditorium it felt like we were a part of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

The Skriker was some sort of “fairy” (in the original, sinister sense) or “shapeshifter” who tormented two young women. The dialogue made little sense and much of the Shriker’s speeches were long, rambling, nonsensical rants, incorporating and twisting common everyday sayings.

Maxine Peake was magnificent in a very demanding role. It was some feat memorising long speeches of nonsense. She came across as menacing, threatening, cunning and vulnerable, as the Skriker changed its form and character. The two other actresses playing principal parts, Laura Elsworthy as Josie and Juma Sharka as Lily, were also good. The rest of the cast were an ensemble dancing, singing, performing strange acrobatics as strange spirits and demons.

Was the Skriker real or was it a figment of Josie’s fevered imagination? She appeared to be in a mental institution at the beginning of the play, probably as a result of killing her baby. Who knows? None of us had a clue what was going on but it was an amazing experience.

Hamlet at the Royal Exchange

hamlet

I’m a bit late getting round to writing this up, but a couple of weeks ago we went to see the latest production at the Royal exchange – Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most well known plays. I’ve never seen a production of the play before and only had a sketchy knowledge of the plot as it wasn’t one of our set plays when I was a school. I knew that Hamlet was the Prince of Denmark, but the Royal Exchange had well known local actress Maxine Peake playing the lead role. She played the part as a man, though. However there were a few gender changes in the cast – Ophelia’s father had become her mother, one half of Rosencratz and Guildersterm was female as were the two gravediggers. These changes, increasing the number of female roles, didn’t seem to affect the story although, so I’ve been told, there were some omissions from the story with no mention of the war with Norway and Fortinbras, the King of Norway didn’t appear at the end to claim the crown when (spoiler alert!!!!) all the main characters had killed each other (or themselves). The latter was no surprise really, it was a Shakespeare tragedy after all.

The production is pretty much a sell out. We couldn’t get the tickets we wanted for a Saturday, our usual night for the theatre, so we had to settle for Tuesday night which meant going over to Manchester straight from work. I got something to eat before the play and as it was a long production I had a dash to the car park to make sure I was able to pay the discounted price –it goes back to the normal exorbitant cost after 5 hours. I made it with a few minutes to spare and would have been quite annoyed if I had to missed the deadline by just a few minutes. The charge would have more than doubled from the £5 discounted cost for theatregoers.

As usual a great production with an excellent cast. Barbara Marten, who was recently on TV in The Mill as Gertrude, John Shrapnel as Claudius were particularly strong. But the star was Maxine Peake. It’s not the first time a woman has played Hamlet – that honour probably goes to Sarah Bernhardt. But Maxine put her own stamp on the role. She played it as a man,nt a woman, and came across as a very convincing young man. Mad as a hatter, I thought, but was he?