The Skriker, Royal Exchange Manchester, review: Maxine Peake is intensely ferocious

Evil wins the day and the audience staggers from the theatre in devastated shock

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The Independent Culture

There was a blinding lightning flash and Maxine Peake slammed onto the stage her face ten inches from mine, consumed with an unspeakable intensity and ferocity. In this re-envisioning of Caryl Churchill’s play The Skriker the audience sit amid the action in a theatre transformed into an underground bunker bedlam. Peake is an ancient malevolent faerie, a sterile shape-shifter, who is out to seduce two teenage mothers, one carrying a child, the other who is in the mental hospital because she has killed hers.

The part draws a performance of huge sure-footed range from Peake. Her demonic creation turns from an aggressive old bag lady to a sleek American cocktail lizard to a pleading manipulative infant to a bronchitic businessman to labile teenager with a crush on the pregnant woman and a hatred of her sly unborn child. They are transformations of virtuoso volatility.

The publicity had portrayed this as an apocalyptic metaphor for the revenge of nature over human despoliation of the earth. But that is too limited an account of the dark pessimism of this passionate piece.

Sarah Frankcom’s darkly extravagant production and consummate cast summon a world of wickedness which is as inadequate as it is potent. The teenage mother who tries to fight faery fire with fire fails. But so does her friend who responds to the faerie’s needs with love – and sacrifices herself in an act of total futility. Evil wins the day and the audience staggers from the theatre in devastated shock.