Grimly Handsome / The Site at the Royal Court Theatre / By Julia Jarcho / December 2017
Co-created by Chloe Lamford and Sam Pritchard
"Around the side of the Royal Court, through a yard filled with Christmas trees, lies a trio of sinister installations: a topsy-turvy Wendy house, with a table set for an upside-down meal; a room in which a young woman pores over police mugshots; and a grotto stuffed with death kitsch, like the lair of a psychopathic Santa. Plastic evidence bags hang from a rail along a corridor where small animals have made nests from city junk.
These are antechambers to the main arena, where Julia Jarcho’s macabre comedy Grimly Handsome plays out variations on the theme of partners in crime, with a pair of homicidal Christmas tree sellers plying a deadly trade on the sidewalks of an unnamed American city, stalked by a brace of swaggering, know-nothing detectives.
The staging is thrilling, using the large windows of this reclaimed studio to take the action out into the yard while simultaneously beaming it back in brilliant colour via an assortment of video screens. The result is a chilling and beautiful reminder that Christmas was invented to disguise the darkest time of the year.”
Claire Amitstead, The Observer, 17.12.17 ★★★★
“Red Riding Hood was warned not to stray from the dark forest path for good reason. But when designer Chloe Lamford and director Sam Pritchardbeckon you down an alley and through a thicket of Christmas trees for Julia Jarcho’s disconcerting and gripping play in three parts, you should follow. But look sharp. Danger lurks.
Lamford and Pritchard treat Jarcho’s text like a crime-scene artefact. The entire show is an immersive installation that begins with mulled wine and a tour through the rooms attached to the playing space. In these tinselly grottoes are stuffed scavenging creatures and children’s toys. Some of them will reappear on stage. At one point, you can peer through a peephole and spy on the passengers waiting on the platform at Sloane Square tube station next door to the theatre. On the roof there is crime tape and a tent hiding dark secrets. The city’s rich look down on us, unseen.”
Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 10.12.17 ★★★★
Imaginatively staged by designer Chloe Lamford and director Sam Pritchard in The Site, a workshop space alongside the main theatre, the production plays with the idea that narrative is created to articulate our basic fears. Audience members push their way through Christmas tree branches and past macabre installations to reach a white-walled performance space that resembles an old school science lab. Scarves from the killers’ previous victims hang on the walls like trophies, but also like props in readiness. A sound engineer orchestrates effects in full view. It’s part backstage space, part incident room, part control centre: the engine room of the story. Here we sit and spy on events, through the windows to the alley outside, via TV screens into other rooms. The result is bizarre, a hallucinatory trip through the grubby, desolate margins of the city as mangled through popular culture and sprinkled with cheery festive songs. It’s possible that we are all just trapped in someone’s bleak fantasy.
Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times, 12.12.17
Lamford and Pritchard's creation will leave you with more questions than answers, but it's not always necessary to search for every underlying meaning; sometimes you can just enjoy it for what it is. And what this piece is is a fine-tuned, cross-disciplinary installation that pushes the boundaries of live art, multimedia and theatre.
Grimly Handsome is like nothing I have ever seen before, and it's a great to experience a show like this every once in a while.