Imagine being visited throughout your life by a creepy, centuries-old fairy who could grant you wishes, but would also compel you to do evil.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/2/2010 (4323 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Supplied photo
Karl Thordarson, left, and Daina Leitold are part of an excellent nine-person cast.

Supplied photo Karl Thordarson, left, and Daina Leitold are part of an excellent nine-person cast.

Imagine being visited throughout your life by a creepy, centuries-old fairy who could grant you wishes, but would also compel you to do evil.

She/he might leave you in peace for long periods. But, being a shapeshifter, the "skriker" could reappear disguised as anyone: an old woman at the bus stop, the guy sitting on the barstool next to you, a smooth-talking suitor.

Fairies -- at least in British folklore -- hunger for human babies to snatch and take to their underworld. That's one of the reasons the magnificent ChurchillFest production of The Skriker provoked gasps of primal horror from a riveted audience.

Caryl Churchill's poetic magic-realist work, dating from 1994, is both haunting and funny. It's so weird, so brilliant and so deeply resonant, it almost defies description. It hits you where you live, at the level where fairy tales frightened you as a small child -- perhaps especially if you're a mother. You just have to see it. The final performances are this afternoon and tonight.

The folklore-based production evokes a time of oral culture and pagan belief -- a time when tales told by firelight were full of violent, bawdy and supernatural imagery. The show, well-suited to the funky old Park Theatre, has a kind of peasant carnival or asylum atmosphere. A strummed ukulele accompanies songs reminiscent of mummery traditions.

Much of the text that surrounds the contemporary story is in the form of tongue-twisting performance poetry. Masterfully delivered by the nine-member cast, it plays intoxicatingly with language, weaving a mad tapestry from half-remembered nursery rhymes and old wives' wisdom.

The narrative centres on two urban teenage (or perhaps young adult) friends. Josie (Charlene van Buekenhout) has murdered her newborn baby before the story opens. She's confined to a mental hospital, but is soon released. Lily (Daina Leitold), a runaway, is hugely pregnant.

The skriker starts off haunting Josie, but she makes a wish that it transfer itself to Lily. As a viewer you're deeply engaged with these vulnerable girls, even as they're experiencing fairy-tale horrors such as vomiting up toads. Leitold and van Buekenhout maintain consistent, compelling characters no matter how fantastical the plot turns.

The skriker, played by a series of actors but never confusingly so, is a potent metaphor for the temptation and destructive impulses with which we universally struggle. When we get the monkey off our back, Churchill observes, we often miss it and go looking for it.

There's wonderful humour and social commentary in Churchill's characterization of the vampire-like fairy. It's no accident that it disguises itself as types that women find hard to resist, such as a needy little neighbour girl or a controlling, stalker-like boyfriend (Kevin Klassen in one of the show's funniest, most sinister portrayals).

Enormous credit is due to fringe-fest veteran Alix Sobler, who directs the excellent cast with uncompromising vision and faith that the audience will "get it."

The Skriker apparently runs three hours when performed in full. This version wisely cuts it to an ideal 75 minutes. Mysterious animated film segments by Sobler are difficult to interpret, but this critic's wish nonetheless is that every remaining seat be filled for this spellbinding production.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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