Friday, 21 April 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Icecream by Caryl Churchill (Royal Court), Tribune, 21 April 1989

Icecream, Caryl Churchill's new play at the Royal Court, is an acerbic black comedy of transatlantic misunderstanding and moral cretinism. Lance and Vera, a middle-class, middle-aged, middle-American couple, are England on vacation. They just love all the history here.

Through Lance's research on his family here, they meet his third cousins, Phil and Jaq, a pair of uncouth squatter types in their twenties. For Phil and Jaq, Americans stink, though they're hooked on American cultural cliches.

Still, they're quite happy to sponge off their new-found relatives, who in turn mistake the Brits' venality for real affection. But then disaster strikes. Phil kills the landlord, and he and Jaq persuade Lance and Vera to help dispose of the body. The Yanks' vacation is ruined, and they return home racked with guilt (which in Vera's case is hilariously mishandled by her shrink). Worse, however, is to follow: the next year, Phil and Jaq turn up to see them in America.
And after Phil is killed jay-walking, Jaq steals Lance's car and goes off on an eventually murderous joy-ride.

All the characters are outrageous caricatures. Lance (a superb deadpan performance by Philip Jackson) and Vera (a neurotic but essentially inane Carole Hayman) are too earnest by half, while Phil (David Thewlis playing a shifty, drunken yob) and Jaq (Sasida Reeves's well observed vacuous tearaway) are as nasty a pair of Ignorant louts as you'll find anywhere.

Churchill's dialogue is sharp and wonderfully funny, and Max Stafford-Clark's production races the action along at breakneck speed. Icecream is a sick, slick and enormously enjoyable expression of hatred for America and Britain that deserves the success of Serious Money, Churchill's 1987 hit.