The latest production on offer at Greenwich Theatre is Bad Nights and Odd Days: a collection of short plays from Caryl Churchill. It features the works Abortive, Seagulls, Three More Sleepless Nights, and Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen – the latter added following the anthology’s initial announcement.
Seagulls sees Valerie facing the loss of her extraordinary powers amidst a crisis of confidence; her manager, Di, is nonplussed – she’s confident of finding new employment if everything does go wrong – and Cliff, a superfan, is just pleased to be in the same room as her idol. Three More Sleepless Nights is a series of bedtime dialogues between Frank & Margaret, Pete & Dawn, and Margaret & Pete, offering a peek into each couple’s relationship. In Abortive, Colin & Roz try to work through the aftermath of a traumatic incident – can they still accept each other after all that’s happened? Finally, Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen is set in a dystopian future, where Mick & Vivian shelter from the smog and top up their oxygen from an aerosol spray can, waiting for Claudia (Mick’s extranged daughter) to arrive.
I’m not entirely sure that the production has quite reached completeness just yet; it may be that it’s suffering from a COVID-imposed restriction on crew members, but it just didn’t feel like everything was rounded off and ready. Between plays, as the props are being moved around, it could really do with some music or sound effects to bookend each piece (and to make things less awkward) – alternatively the prop movement could have been incorporated into the performance with some choreography or movement work, for a bit of added creativity. What’s more worrying, however, is that a show billed as 2 hours 20 minutes (that time includes the interval) managed to overrun by approximately 40 minutes. That is simply not acceptable, and highly suggestive of a lack of preparation (or over-ambition). It wouldn’t be fair on an unsuspecting audience under normal circumstances, but when you’re masked up – and not used to being out that later after a year of isolation – it really affects your enjoyment of the evening.
Seagulls, for me, is easily the highlight of the four plays; it is inspired by losing the ability to write, instead featuring a seemingly ordinary woman who has been able to move things with her mind her whole life, but fails a public display at a charity event. The fantastical element of telekinesis highlights how soul-destroying it is to lose an ability that is special to you – and vital in providing a spark of enjoyment in your life. It’s an idea that many people could relate to on a varying scale.
The contrast & balancing of dialogue styles in Three More Sleepless Nights (argument, one-sided talk, actual conversation) is enjoyable; there’s a lot of humour to be found here, as well as some dark (& frankly bizarre) moments too. Abortive continues the pillow-talk theme, albeit the more disturbing kind (it’s hard to come back from the line “it started as rape”) – rather fittingly, considering Roz & Colin’s apparent ambivalence over her recent abortion, the play doesn’t really appear to say anything. Plays two & three may be separated by the interval, do be aware that the prolonged dim lighting used is quite a strain on your eyes.
Though Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen was clearly chosen because of its environmental & authoritarian themes, it takes a lot of time to say very little. It’s not helped by its position at the end of a long evening (beginning when the show was due to finish), its bleakness is unrelenting & overwhelming.
Kerrie Taylor stands out in both her turns, with an affecting performance as Valerie (swinging from childlike enthusiasm to crippling doubt) and equally engaging as Roz. Paul McGann & Gracy Goldman are great value as sparring couple Frank & Margaret, whilst Dan Gaisford provides some slight relief as Peter describing the plot of Alien. Bonnie Baddoo is fun & vibrant as superfan Cliff, and Verna Vyas strikes an eerie note as the troubled Dawn.
My verdict? An ambitious collection of short plays that needs a bit of a polish – Kerrie Taylor stands out.
Bad Nights and Odd Days runs at Greenwich Theatre until 10 July 2021. Tickets are available online and from the box office.