After a critically acclaimed run in 2016, Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped Alone’ returns with the original cast for a short run at The Royal Court prior to a National tour and a transfer to New York. Churchill seems to have embraced the short play with this one running at 50 minutes. Her last play ‘Pigs and Dogs’ was 10 minutes long and ‘Here We Go’ was a 40 minute play of which a long section was wordless. In spite of the running time this is a densely packed and intriguing theatrical event.
Mrs Jarrett spots three women sitting on deckchairs in a suburban garden and decides to join them. The four septuagenarians discuss a variety of mundane subjects including TV shows, the modern world and the demise of some of the local shops they remember fondly. They constantly interrupt each other, speaking in fragmented sentences. Underneath their chatter lie darker stories and they reveal some of the undercurrent in a series of inner monologues outlining rage, fear, depression and remorse. Intermittently, the stage falls into darkness and Mrs Jarrett steps forward, framed by borders of throbbing jagged red neon lights. She speaks of terrible apocalyptic events which she recounts in a coldly dispassionate manner.
It’s as surreal as it sounds and is a play that feels like it should be easy to analyse and understand yet remains tantalisingly obscure in parts. The apocalyptic visions are both chilling and hilariously funny at the same time. An example being that, horrifically, obese people devour slices of their own flesh when food runs out yet this is juxtaposed with a description of people watching breakfast on the I-player on their way to work. Vitally, it’s an incredibly entertaining piece to watch. The characters are finely drawn and are warm and funny. It’s a disquieting and haunting play but one which is also entertaining and eminently watchable.
The four actresses reprise their roles with gusto and it’s a treat, in our restrictive times when older women can become invisible in the arts, to see a play written by and starring women over 60. James Macdonald once again proves that he can direct faultlessly and Miriam Buether’s set combined with Peter Mumford’s lighting and Christopher Shutt’s sound design combine to make this an exceptional piece of flawless theatre.