What If If Only

Caryl Churchill
Royal Court Theatre

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John Heffernan as Someone Credit: Johan Persson
John Heffernan as Someone and Linda Bassett as Futures Credit: Johan Persson
Linda Bassett as Present and John Heffernan as Someone Credit: Johan Persson
Jasmine Nyenya as Child Future and John Heffernan as Someone Credit: Johan Persson

Caryl Churchill’s new play lasts only twenty minutes and is played on its own, not as part of a multiple bill as some of her other short plays have been, but, brief as it is, it is remarkably satisfying.

She presents us with Someone, they could be any age, any gender but director James Macdonald has cast John Heffernan so in this production it is a youngish bearded male. He is sitting alone silently eating a meal and fiddling with his mobile phone. When he starts talking, it is about something he has read: “A man who spent ten years trying to paint an apple so that it looked just like an apple, then seven years trying to paint an apple so it looked nothing like an apple. Then he died. This is the sort of thing that interests you. That used to interest you.”

Though he talks more about the painter of apples, it is the change of tense in that last sentence that is significant. This isn’t a man on his mobile and there is no other Someone in the chair on the other side of the table. This is a man stricken by the death of his partner, desperately trying to go on sharing, asking for some sign that they are there, somewhere.

This is when a shadow appears on the wall of the white box of Miriam Buether’s set, which then lifts to allow a new figure to enter. They look a little like the person he is missing but they aren’t them. They are the future, eager that he should choose them, and shortly there is not just one future but multitudes, all desperate to be made real. So many possibilities, so many choices but blind choices, you can’t know what they will turn into.

Linda Bassett plays the first Future and then all the others in a crescendo of different voices. When they fade, she’s not the Future but the Present and then they are joined by a child (on the opening night Jasmine Nyena who shares the role with Samir Simon-Keegan) who has rolled under the set, while it was raised slightly. They are a new Future determined to happen.

This isn’t just an intellectual exercise, it is a stimulating piece of writing, extremely well served by its actors. It is flecked with humour as well as being very moving.

My journey to and from Sloane Square took several times longer than the performance, but I’m glad that I made it. However, performance times at 6PM and at 10PM on some days make it possible to combine this with seeing Is God Is on the same night and at a lower price.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton