Escaped Alone at the Royal Court Theatre
In a green and pretty garden, beneath a uniformly blue sky, four mature women sit on unmatched chairs and chat. While topics start at the banal with haircuts, kids and retirement, it’s not long before we lurch into the surreal and the epic. We’d expect no less from Caryl Churchill: prolific and pioneering playwright, mainstay of the theatre studies curriculum and multi-award winner.
Miriam Buether’s stage design neatly contains its garden scene within a rectangular frame, offering it to us as a postcard, TV screen or a children’s book. Or a window through which we voyeuristically spy on another life.
Neighbour Mrs Jarrett is the odd one out of the four women, with her unstylish baggy leggings, brash accent and jarring small talk. The cosily domestic garden scenes are broken up by her stepping out of the frame to address the audience as migraine-inducing, red hot wires pulsate in the blackness around her. Away from the idle nattering, absurd dystopic monologues reign. Churchill’s writing here imagines a nightmare future where “miscarriages were frequent, leading to an increase in opportunities in grief counselling”, and “commuters watched breakfast on iPlayer on their way to work”. It’s a peek into the playwright’s mind, where vivid imagery of devastation collides with snippets from the modern world, from TV shows and from the mundanities of daily life. Comedy is a strong feature: effortless and unexpected; born of absurdity and juxtaposition. The writer gives us moments that occupy a space of hilarity at the same time as utter desolation.
Churchill’s deliberately structured, interweaving dialogue is a technique she has used since Top Girls in most things she’s written. Escaped Alone differs from Top Girls, though, because, while the women frequently interrupt one another, their lines don’t overlap. Sentences are sliced, sandwiched and stacked. Most aren’t finished. This form doesn’t so much imitate natural dialogue as create a rhythm between the characters and infer their intuitive female relationship.
June Watson’s Vi, often stern-faced and with wonderful comic timing, lends gravitas to the stage. But Linda Bassett as Mrs Jarrett is the show-stealer: idiosyncratic and gormless, she amuses her audience while also inviting pity.
At only 50 minutes, Escaped Alone is a tight and punchy piece. The Royal Court has supported Churchill from the early stages of her career, so it’s a fitting place to see her most recent show before it tours.
Escaped Alone is at the Royal Court Theatre from 25th January until 11th February 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Escaped Alone here: