Review: The Skriker (Red One Theatre Collective/Theatre Brouhaha)


Red One Theatre Collective brings The Skriker to fantastical life at the Storefront Theatre in Toronto

If you go down to the Storefront this week (or next), you’re in for a big surprise. If you go down to the theatre this week, you’d better go in disguise! For every creature that ever there was has gathered there for certain because… Red One Theatre Collective has brought to life—vibrant, haunting life!—Caryl Churchill’s fantastical play The Skriker.

My date and I were blown away by this production. “I think that was the best thing I’ve ever seen!” she told me as we walked away from the theatre, our eyes sparkling. I nodded enthusiastically, my heart still pounding in my chest, my mind reeling.

I want to tell all of you to see this grotesque, hilarious, near-perfect theatrical event, but that would be foolish. I know this is not for everyone. If you prefer kitchen sink dramas, where tables are tables and the rug is never pulled out from under you, then this is not the play for you. This is a place where a cigar is never just a cigar.

Churchill’s masterpiece (no, I’m not exaggerating) is full of fragmented wordplay and presents a topsy-turvy storyline about two sisters—Josie and Lily—whose lives get tangled up with an ancient faerie who takes on many different forms as it seduces and torments them.

From the get-go, the atmosphere is spooky. We’re ushered into the theatre by a mysterious woman who leads us into the space through a back alley. The environment is whimsical and ominous. Holly Lloyd’s set instantly transported me. The wide-open playing area is flanked by clutter—musical instruments, furniture, toys and clothing—the remnants of an abandoned world.

And the costumes! Kendra Terpenning has assembled a motley crew; they are a whirlwind of brightly coloured tights, ragged summer dresses, with eyes peering out from behind burlap masks! It’s a dark circus! And there isn’t a single wasted texture.

Sounds amazing, huh? I haven’t even mentioned the performers yet.

Claire Armstrong, The Skriker’s tramp personae and the tale’s narrator, has the daunting task of introducing us to the fractured language, and making it real for us. When the play begins, she bombards us with phrases that are almost nonsensical, but there is meaning in the rhyme and rhythm. Armstrong helps us find that meaning by knowing exactly what she’s talking about. She is confident and playful.

Suzette McCanny plays Josie, a young woman who is surviving an abortion. (Yes, that’s what I mean.) She is haunted by the idea of the child she never had. That torment echoes out; we see it in her eyes and body. It doesn’t help matters that her sister, Lily, is pregnant. As Lily, Perrie Olthius is the most hopeful presence on stage. You can see the intoxicating excitement of human potential in her. She’s not afraid of the life growing inside her, but she is afraid for it.

These two are the characters we identify with. They exist, primarily, in the familiar world we understand, but they must confront the ancient world of the faeries that have been forgotten by humanity. The Skriker, in its many forms, tries to lure them back into the underworld of magic and dreams. When it can’t win them over, it decides to punish them instead.

Each of the many Skriker personae (played by different performers) are memorable characters. Some are funnier than others, some more disturbing. In both Churchill’s text and each performer’s interpretation, there is something unique and surprising.

The program tells me this is Daniel Pagett’s directorial debut. Um, what?! This production is so finely wrought, I’m convinced he’s got fifty shows under his belt. From the concept and design-work to the nuanced performances, this show is rich and breathtaking. There isn’t a single dull or wasted moment. Every sight and sound resonates.

Caryl Churchill’s drama is enigmatic, enticing and so damn intelligent… I just can’t get enough of her. Here, she plays with ideas of environmental irresponsibility, the loss of meaning in the rise of rationality, and the damaged world we inhabit. The faeries of this play are representatives of an ancient human consciousness that we risk losing because we’re so intent on technological progress at the sake of all else.

By now, you can probably tell if this is your thing or not. If you’re not sure, then, heck, why not give it a go? Give that two hours of your life you were going to spend on reality TV (or whatever else) to the theatre! And if my Skriker love-rant has genuinely inspired you, go with your gut: see it!


  • The Skriker plays until November 9 at The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor St. West)
  • Shows runs Wednesday to Sunday at 8PM
  • Tickets are $15 (Oct 29 – Nov 2) and $25 (Nov 5 – Nov 9)
  • Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

Photo of Tim Walker, Suzette McCanney, Claire Armstrong and Perrie Olthuis by Zaiden