Tuesday, 23 September 2008

CARYL CHURCHILL READINGS: Ice Cream, The Royal Court, 16 Sep 2008

Caryl Churchill and her gorgeous writing was far from my mind when I came to see the reading of her "Ice Cream".

The fact that my favourite actress on the world was going to be in it dominated my mood of the evening. I had already booked tickets for Ivanov so I knew I was going to see her at some point. Having already seen her both at the National Theatre (a magnificent season of Connections) and the Soho Theatre (in the fantastic A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians) one might think this nothing special but my admiration for Miss Riseborough have only grown since I first saw her in Chatroom/Citizenship. Since then she has been in my cult tv favourites Party Animals and Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley.

So nervous we entered the theatre but after an exciting real-life meeting with the lovely Miss Riseborough at the Royal Court Bar (a place of fateful meetings indeed) one could go into the auditorium a little more relaxed.

And of course it's always an special occassion, seeing Andre Riseborough do what she does, which is basically being the most talented actress of her generation and many other generations. "Ice cream" gave her plenty of chances to show off her skills as the story, after a more choral first half, centers on her character, Jaq. She manages to seem quirky and enigmatic yet strangely ordinary. Riseborough navigates through Jaq's rough edges with charm but refusing to sell the character to the audience. Jaq might be a bit lost, but she is not fighting your approval.

This is a strange coming-of-age story and yet it is one indeed, starting out as a culture clash between an American well-to-do couple and their British relatives, the young and down-and-out siblings Jaq and Phil. Another delight of the night was seeing Ben Whishaw take on the role of Phil. We finally understand what all the fuss about this actor was about. He was unexpectedly hilarious and had great acting chemistry with Riseborough, and had a sort of confidence to his manner that is just lovely to see on stage. I, for one, am sold and promise to see everything this man acts in (starting with the National Theatre's ...some trace of her).

Shawn Wallace as Lance, from the American part of the play, was impressive in this reading as well, with Miranda Richardson convincing as his unsatisfied wife.

Like with other Churchill readings I've been to this week I was left astounded at how fresh the writing feels, how well it sounds. I particularly enjoyed how the story tramples the expectations about itself and when we thought it is an American-British relationship statement it turns into a somehow cheap crime mystery and then it changes again into something quiet as we follow Jaq's steps into American. It becomes a road-play of sorts, introspective and surprising.

Caryl Churchill is so hardcore.

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