A Dialogue on Dramaturging Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker

Left: Dani Mettler (Contributor) is a BFA 3 Playwright. She is currently working as Assistant Dramaturg on The Skriker by Caryl Churchill. 

Right: Nicole Prahin is a fourth year Theatre Arts major. Her Theatre School credits include working as a dramaturg for The Pillowman and The Skriker as well as serving as Assistant Director for The Four Twins and Medea. Nicole has worked with Redmoon Theater developing shadow shows with students and is currently working on their upcoming youth spectacle at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

        Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker was first produced at the Royal National Theatre in London in 1994 and received mixed reviews — most claiming the play itself was incomprehensible through its combination of folklore, magic, globalization, and feminism.  The play follows Skriker, a shape-shifting death portent of the Underworld, as she attempts to interfere in the lives of two teenage mothers, Lily and Josie.  Josie first meets Skriker after killing her ten-day-old baby and soon wishes Skriker away to befriend Lily.  Skriker then begins her quest to the steal Lily’s baby and lure Lily into the Underworld.  In the play, both the Underworld creatures and humans are linked by desire.  Lily is as fascinated by the Skriker’s magical powers as the Skriker is about the technology of contemporary society.  This desire, however, proves to be dangerous and addicting.  The Underworld creatures’ gluttony grows from a banquet feast of twigs and rubbish to their continuous hunt for human babies to devour, just as the humans’ desire for economic progress snowballs into a world set on globalization at any cost.  As alluring and tempting as these things first seem to be, the Skriker presents us with a chilling cautionary tale where magic turns to horror and where our own wishes are what destroy us. MFA Director Jess Jung will be directing The Skriker as a part of The Theatre School’s New Director Series.  The production runs November 5th to the 14th. Below is a conversation between the production’s dramaturgs, Nicole Prahin and Dani Mettler.

Nicole: A huge challenge that our production faces right now is how to handle the end when Skriker tricks Lily into going to the Underworld and never lets her return, leaving Lily’s baby alone and vulnerable.  Is Lily being punished or is that just the way it was meant to happen?  With Churchill especially, I think there’s this pressure on directors and dramaturgs to somehow decode and pin down an exact cause/effect behind all the events within Churchill’s scripts.

Dani: I don’t know if that’s even possible.  We’ve talked a lot about the use of time in Churchill’s plays being a lot more cyclical than linear.

Nicole: Similarly, Josie and Lily face similar situations with the Skriker at different points in the play, but their punishments, as administered by the Skriker seem independent of and not fully predicated upon each character’s choices.  There’s not always a clear progression of cause and effect behind the way events unfold. 

Dani: I think in both the play and real life, these events maybe exist within a greater historical context, culminating in a larger cause/effect happening all over the world.  It’s all connected but we’re just not aware of it.  Something simple that happens to us may occur because of something Stalin said sixty some years ago.  I mean, so much of our lives are determined by things we do not understand.

Nicole: Just as Lily does not understand why she gets punished, we do not fully comprehend how our fate can be determined by things greater than our individual actions.   Despite Lily’s actions and goodwill toward saving the world from the wrath of the Skriker, she is the one left to face the anger of future generations and then die herself.  I don’t think it’s necessarily important that we know specifically why this happens to her.  Instead I think it’s more important to leave the audience to re-examine and question what simple actions in their lives may be affecting the fate of the world.

Dani: As well as questioning who the authorities are that made the world the way it is.

Nicole: And I think the Skriker is that ominous authority figure for Lily and Josie, but at the same time, she’s also answering to a higher power or authority that is out of her control.  And I think that’s what Churchill intended — that Lily’s good intention cannot outweigh the greater chain of events.  In order to change the world and reverse the effects of pollution and globalization, more than one person must act.  Lily cannot be the only one.

Dani: Every small intention is part of a greater whole that we can’t always see, and in this play Caryl Churchill gives us this bigger picture, whether we like it or not.  And in that sense, I think in the play she owns up to how confusing that really is.

Nicole: In a way, Churchill seems to have predicted the state of our world now.

Dani: As time passes and many of Churchill’s prophecies of globalization and damage are being fulfilled, this play seems to speak to a contemporary American audience.

Nicole: And in that sense, despite the challenges this script poses, it truly is unique in the fact that it grows more relevant with time.  I don’t know if I can think of any other play that does that.


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