By Lucinda Naughton
Escaped Alone, written by Caryl Churchill, and directed by Jenny Kemp, opens up to three neighbours, played by Caroline Lee, Margaret Mills, and Marta Kaczmarek, sitting together to have a chat. The neighbours are joined by a fourth, played by Julie Forsyth and their disconnect with her is hilarious; Forsyth continuously dropping lines that clearly demonstrate her difference to the others, which she is unaware of. With the running time of fifty-five minutes, the play is very concise.
This light, although somewhat absurd, chat is contrasted with Forsyth’s narration, where what has actually happened to their world is described through scene after scene of great dystopia. Churchill really delivers the creatively weird goods on this one, such as the idea that phones have replaced food, so the starving could watch cooking shows on their phones instead of eating. Forsyth performs the satirical and brutal work of Churchill naturally. The narration scenes help the absurdities that occur in the chat become more clear, and the neighbours continue to chat around their problems without directly addressing the issues like Forsyth’s narration does (with the exception perhaps of their monologues, where a great deal of inner thoughts are revealed).
Some aspects of Dann Barber’s stage design are interesting while others fall short. The four sit on an elevated stage of fake grass on four deck chairs, while below them, there is a grotesque set up of roots twisting and winding in the dim, eerie light. I think this mirrors the horror that lies only a short way beneath their chit-chat – a fantastic visual metaphor. There is a row of bright lights shone into the audiences’ eyes every time there’s a blackout with composer Elizabeth Drake’s unnerving music blasted, a creative lighting design by Rachel Burke to hide Forsyth as she climbs down for her narration underneath the other three. However, the deck chairs occupying the elevated stage are evenly spaced out, and face the audience rather than each other, which creates less room for the natural flow of conversation. Perhaps this is the intention, but it came across as quite stiff, particularly in the beginning; the actors have to work hard to keep the rapport physically going. The cast returning their lines too slowly, or interrupting another’s too late, did not help this stiffness.
This stiffness grew less as the piece established its rhythm. There are moments where each actor displays great depth, usually in their monologues. Caroline Lee particularly shines as she loses her character’s normally quite composed self in an obsessive monologue about her hatred of cats, which is written and delivered highly craftily. While Margaret Mills conveys a moving monologue concerned with domestic violence and how it completely uprooted her life. The three break out into an entertaining song at one point; Forsyth’s slow engagement is hilarious.
Churchill’s layering of drama in Escaped Alone is very interesting. The chit-chat that simply avoids directly addressing the truth, skirting over it very realistically; the characters’ actual inner turmoil revealed with much depth and skill in their monologues; and finally the narration below them, which tells it exactly how it is. Escaped Alone is an interesting piece of theatre.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.