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The Skriker EN302: European Theatre. Caryl Churchill (1938-) Wrote extensively for radio in her early career Oeuvre of feminist and socialist drama, including:

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Presentation on theme: "The Skriker EN302: European Theatre. Caryl Churchill (1938-) Wrote extensively for radio in her early career Oeuvre of feminist and socialist drama, including:"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Skriker EN302: European Theatre

2 Caryl Churchill (1938-) Wrote extensively for radio in her early career Oeuvre of feminist and socialist drama, including: Vinegar Tom (1976) Cloud Nine (1979) Top Girls (1982) A Mouthful of Birds (1986) The Skriker (1994) A Number (2002)

3 What is the Skriker? “…a shapeshifter and death portent, ancient and damaged” (9) SKRIKER. Lily, I’ll level with you, ok? You ready for this? I am an ancient fairy, hundreds of years old as you people would work it out. (23)

4 What is the Skriker? She appears as: “WOMAN about 50… Dowdy, cardigan, could be a patient” (17) “a derelict woman… shouting in the street” (18) “an American woman of about 40 who is slightly drunk” (19) “part of the sofa, invisible to them” (26) “A SMALL CHILD” (29) “a MAN about 30” (46) “MARIE, a young woman about LILY’s age” (51) “a shabby respectable MAN about 40” (53) “a very ill old woman” (54)

5 What is the Skriker? As Elaine Aston observes, “…the Skriker plays low status (a needy child, an old woman) and high status roles (business woman, would-be lover) – but always in relations that are hierarchical, vampiric and never mutual.” (2003: 31)

6 Folklore characters SKRIKER. Kelpie gallops them into the loch stock and barrel of fun fair enough and eats them, falls out of the water into love with a ladylike, his head in her lap lap lap, her hand in his hairy, there is sand in it there is and there is sand and shells shock. (10) KELPIE: This is the fearsome and malevolent water spirit of Scottish folklore. … It would appear to unsuspecting young women as a lover, eventually abducting them and devouring them under the water. The Kelpie would also entice wandering children or unwary young men to mount him in the guise of a sleek horse on the shore of the loch. The fiend would then gallop off into the water, dragging down his victims and devouring all but the entrails, which would float to the surface. (Rose 1996: 178)

7 Folklore characters SKRIKER. Bloody Bones hides in the dark dark dark we all go into the dark cupboard love all. See through the slit where he sits on piles of bloody boney was a warrior and chews whom he likes. Dollop gollop fullup. (10) RAW HEAD AND BLOODY BONES: This is an evil spirit or water demon in the folklore of Lancashire, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire in England. … This demon is described as the gory semblance of a human that has blood running down its face, and is usually observed seated on a pile of bones. It is essentially a nursery bogie that is said to be lurking in stagnant ponds, marl pits, or in the understairs cupboards of a house. From these gruesome places it watches and awaits its opportunity to drag impetuous and defiant children to their demise. (Rose 1996: 275)

8 Folklore characters Visible to us but largely invisible to Lily and Josie: representative of other invisible forces? Most of the background characters exhibit vampiric relations of some sort; many of them are associated with luring children to their deaths (e.g. Jennie Greenteeth and Black Annis)

9 Fairy tales The Fairies by Charles Perrault [read] When Lily is kind to the Skriker (in the latter’s guise as a homeless woman), “Pound coins come out of her mouth when she speaks” (18); when, conversely, Josie refuses to give her either money or a kiss, “As she speaks toads come out of her mouth” (26). The kind girl / unkind girl dichotomy is complicated by the fact that Josie recognises the Skriker, but Lily does not. JOSIE. Toads, what you do that for, I’m not toads inside, it’s you that’s toads. (28) Note that Lily is not, in fact, ultimately rewarded for her kindness. Geraldine Cousin: “The Skriker is, finally, not so much a fairy story as a warning against believing in fairy stories – at least the kind where everyone lives happily ever after.” (1996: 186)

10 Fairy tales and the unconscious Ralf Erik Remshardt describes the Skriker’s underworld as “transparently the realm of dreams, fears, and desires” (1995: 122). For Elaine Aston, the Skriker and the other spirits “stand for the damaged semiotic (in the Kristevan sense): the marginalised ‘other’ that haunts the symbolic order – an invisible, repressed world, made visible” (2003: 29). The Skriker seems to feed on Josie’s dreams and memories: SKRIKER. Haven’t I wrapped myself up rapt rapture ruptured myself in your dreams, scoffed your chocolate screams, your Jung men and Freud eggs, your flying and fleeing? (38)

11 Fairy tales and the unconscious Ann Wilson: “As this brief and playfully associative speech suggests, the Skriker scoffs at Freudian and Jungian explanations of the unconscious and in the taunting, refuses to be contained by them. The associative language of the Skriker, a death portent and so a figure of absence, marks the insistent return of the repressed which haunts all language.” (1998: 181) “In The Skriker, Churchill refuses the audience a sense of mastery. Mastery always involves domination (in the case of interpretation, of understanding fully the action and hence, being able to control and contain its effect.) … It is a mode of social regulation and containment based on relations of power which are, by definition, hierarchical and potentially oppressive. From this perspective, Churchill’s refusal to allow the audience access to a position of interpretive “mastery” over The Skriker is an act of political resistance.” (Wilson 1998: 187)

12 Fairy tales and the unconscious The Juniper Tree by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm [read] Claudia Barnett argues that the Skriker “is more witch than goblin and embodies maternal desires” (2000: 48). She quotes Jung’s description of the “mother archetype”: “The qualities associated with it are maternal solicitude and sympathy; the magic authority of the female; the wisdom and spiritual exaltation that transcend reason; any helpful instinct or impulse; all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility. The place of magic transformation and rebirth, together with the underworld and its inhabitants, are presided over by the mother. On the negative side the mother archetype may connote anything secret, hidden, dark; the abyss, the world of the dead, anything that devours, seduces, and poisons, that is terrifying and inescapable like fate.” Barnett goes on to argue that “even though the characters coincide with Jungian archetypes and fairy-tale stereotypes, they do not conform to gender-role expectations” (2000: 53).

13 Changeling tales JOSIE. She’s a changeling. LILY. She what? JOSIE. That’s not your baby. They’ve put one of theirs and taken yours off. (43) The Elves (third tale) by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm [read] Read pp Postnatal depression? Postnatal psychosis?

14 Environmental damage Geraldine Cousin: “The Skriker… is a cautionary tale, a forceful and timely reminder of the ecological disaster that may await our descendants in the near future if we fail to learn to use the Earth’s resources more wisely.” (1998: 189) Wordplay: note nuclear power stations in opening speech (Dungeness, Sizewell) SKRIKER. They used to leave us cream in a sorcerer’s apprentice. Gave the brownie a pair of trousers to wear have you gone? Now they hate us and hurt hurtle faster and master. They poison me in my rivers of blood poisoning makes my arm swelter. (12) This is clearly not an elegy for lost folklore (see Churchill’s Vinegar Tom). SKRIKER. You people are killing me, do you know that? I am sick, I am a sick woman. (22)

15 Environmental damage JOSIE. And now no one tastes any good? SKRIKER. Dry as dustpans, foul as shitpandemonium. Poison in the food chain saw massacre. JOSIE. If I could just go and see. I’d come back. SKRIKER. Shall I take you in my pocket pick it up and tuck it in? JOSIE. Yes please. SKRIKER. Up in the smokey hokey pokey? up in the world wind? up in the war zone ozone zany grey? (37-8)

16 Environmental damage SKRIKER. Have you noticed the large number of meteorological phenomena lately? Earthquakes. Volcanoes. Drought. Apocalyptic meteorological phenomena. The increase of sickness. It was always possible to think whatever your personal problem, there’s always nature. Spring will return, even if it’s without me. Nobody loves me but at least it’s a sunny day. This had been a comfort to people as long as they’ve existed. But it’s not available any more. Sorry. Nobody loves me and the sun’s going to kill me. Spring will return and nothing will grow. (48-9)

17 Environmental damage SKRIKER. If she was back on earth where on earth where was the rockabye baby gone the treetop? Lost and gone for everybody was dead years and tears ago, it was another cemetery, a black whole hundred yearns. […] But when the daughters grand and great greater greatest knew she was from the distant past master class, then rage raging bullfight bullroar. The GIRL bellows wordless rage at LILY. (56)

18 Postmodernity and disconnection Lily’s failure to explain how a TV works (pp. 20-1) JOSIE. Everything’s flat here like a video. (43) The underworld scene as musical theatre? “Light, music, long table with feast, lavishly dressed people and creatures… It looks wonderful except that it is all glamour and here and there it is not working – some of the food is twigs, leaves, beetles, some of the clothes are rags, some of the beautiful people have a claw hand or hideous face” (34-5) SKRIKER. So the Skriker sought fame and fortune telling, celebrity knockout drops, TV stardomination, chat showdown and market farces… (41)

19 The Skriker as global capitalism? For Amich, the Skriker “reflects the negative effects of globalization: feeding on people, sucking their blood, her body suffers the ravages of capitalism and the environmental ills it produces” (2007: 400). According to Elin Diamond, Churchill’s work explores “what it feels like in the nervous system to live in times of social and political struggle, or, as in the last decades, at a time when multinational capital, not political debate, destabilizes the psychic and social frameworks of human connection” (2006: 476). Diamond finds Jameson’s description of the postmodern ‘dilemma’ helpful: “one that involves our insertion as individual subjects into a multidimensional set of radically discontinuous realities, whose frames range from the still surviving spaces of bourgeois private life all the way to the unimaginable decentring of global capitalism itself.” (2006: 477, quoting Jameson 1991: 413)

20 The Skriker as global capitalism? The Skriker is insidious: both Lily and Josie choose to be exploited by the Skriker, lured in by false promises and short- term gain). GIRL. Don’t eat or you’ll never get back. (36) Compare Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’? SKRIKER. Don’t you want to feel global warm and happy every after? Warm the cackles of your heartless. (36)

21 The Skriker as global capitalism? “A BUSINESSMAN with a THRUMPIN riding on his back. He doesn’t know it’s there. … He is joined by colleagues, all with THRUMPINS, for a meeting. They are talking but we can’t hear what they say. All we can hear is a shrill twittering wordless conversation among the THRUMPINS.” (41) THRUMPIN: A spirit in the folklore of the Border counties between Scotland and England, it was described as a sprite that remained with the individual throughout his or her life. Unlike the Guardian Angel, whose duties were to preserve the life of its human charge, the Thrumpin had the power to terminate the human’s existence. (Rose 1996: 308)

22 The Skriker as global capitalism? Working class single mothers in 1994: class and gender politics Peter Lilley speech, 1992: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOx8q3eGq3g https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOx8q3eGq3g Candice Amich: “In Britain, as in the United States, the 1990s saw the demonization of single motherhood as part of an ideological campaign to justify the privatization of social services and the elimination of welfare benefits. Thus, Josie and Lily’s vulnerable position in the economy as young, single, unemployed mothers is a direct consequence of the forces of neo-liberal globalization, which aim to eliminate all traces of social welfare.” (2007: 398) The Skriker takes a kind of voyeuristic glee in global catastrophe in her guise as the man, comparing environmental disaster to “a pileup on the motorway” and “snuff movies” (49). “Ultimately, I am inclined to argue the Skriker as a nemesis figure: an ancient, avenging figure unleashed on a world that continues to neglect its mothers, its children, its future.” (Aston 2003: 31)

23 Biobliography Amich, Candice (2007) ‘Bringing the Global Home: The Commitment of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker’, Modern Drama 50: 3, pp Aston, Elaine (2003) Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Barnett, Claudia (2000) ‘“Reveangance is gold mine, sweet”: Alchemy and Archetypes in Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker’, Essays in Theatre 19: 1, pp Cousin, Geraldine (1996) Women in Dramatic Place and Time: Contemporary Female Characters On Stage, London & New York: Routledge. Cousin, Geraldine (1998) ‘Owning the Disowned: The Skriker in the Context of Earlier Plays by Caryl Churchill’, in Sheila Rabillard [ed.] Essays on Caryl Churchill: Contemporary Representations, Winnipeg: Blizzard Publishing, pp Diamond, Elin (2006) ‘Caryl Churchill: Feeling Global’ in Mary Luckhurst [ed.] A Companion to Modern British and Irish Drama , Malden, Oxford & Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, pp Jameson, Fredric (1991) Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Remshardt, Ralf Erik (1995), ‘The Skriker’ (review), Theatre Journal 47: 1, pp Rose, Carol (1996) Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes, and Goblins: an Encyclopedia of the Little People, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. Wilson, Ann (1998) ‘Failure and the Limits of Representation in The Skriker’, in Sheila Rabillard [ed.] Essays on Caryl Churchill: Contemporary Representations, Winnipeg: Blizzard Publishing, pp


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