Who isn’t up for a little bit of structural fun in a play, especially when it’s NEW WRITING and TWENTY MINUTES LONG and by an awesome playwright and TEN QUID? Well, not me, anyway, so when my Italian class got cancelled at the last minute I suddenly found myself with a window of opportunity to run to the Royal Court to see Caryl Churchill’s new playlet, Ding Dong the Wicked. The schedule for it is quite bizarre, with most showings at 6:30, but since you’re done at 7 this means you can fit in another show if you’re quick off the mark (and, say, heading to the National or maybe seeing a 7:45 show).
As a play, the story, such as it exists, is that people are gathering together before sending someone off to war. The country appears to be some nationalistic place; the people against which they are fighting is unspecified. Given some vague hints (in the title), I had this feeling that the Munchkins had invaded and the person being kept prisoner upstairs was the Wicked Witch of the West. But at no point was anything said along these lines; you never know who the protagonists are at war with, or what, if anything, the title is referring to.
What is fun about this play (and makes it well worth a visit) is its structure: as a play, it unspools like a villanelle (here’s a nice example by Auden, this Plath one is also excellent). The two halves of the play seem to nearly entirely reuse all of the dialogue of the first half; but the speakers are changed and even the phrases are broken up, so in one the words of a woman talking about being bullied as a child change to two people’s words, out of sequence, about abusing someone and hating a certain kind of skinny woman. I relished seeing how the meanings of the exact same sentences bent and flowed depending on who said them to whom and in what order – it was really just a lot of fun. Still it was a bit mentally exhausting, and in the end I was glad the play was short enough that I didn’t have to break myself trying to make all of the connections.
Still … for a hardcore theater goer, this was well worth the trip to Royal Court, and made me want to see more of Caryl Churchill … or, perhaps, to read it.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012. The play continues through October 13th.)