“I have to believe them
It has to be someone I believe
I have to believe they’re not just saying it
I have to believe they know…”
After the divisive triptych of Here We Go, we now get a second brand new play from Caryl Churchill in the form of Escaped Alone. And rather brilliantly for a venue now unafraid to shake the rafters about received notions about women in theatre (and society) under Vicky Featherstone’s leadership (cf this interview, outgoing play Linda), it stars four women of great experience, their combined acting on stage and screen adding up to over 170 years – a fact that shouldn’t be remarkable in itself but sadly, still is.
Trying to come up with a précis of ‘what happens’ is difficult at the best of times with Churchill’s plays and Escaped Alone is no different. Suffice to say, Sally (Deborah Findlay), Lena (Kika Markham), and Vi (June Watson) play three friends enjoying a cup of tea in Miriam Buether’s highly naturalistic back garden set when neighbour Mrs Jarrett (Linda Bassett) pops along to join them. What follows is a sharing of stories, personal and political, private revelations and public address.
The characters are all over 70 and so much life has happened to them but something apocalyptic is happening too (a recurring and disturbingly prescient theme in the playwright’s work, not least The Skriker). And in the steady flow of James Macdonald’s assured production, contrasting timeframes are elided beautifully – as stories of survival are divided by Bassett’s matter-of-fact accounts about the state of the world today – aided by Buether’s addition of a pitch black antechamber in front, framed by ingeniously flickering and effective electric coils, Peter Mumford’s lighting transformatively complete.
A frequent collaborator with Churchill, Macdonald’s investigation of the text is supreme, so that each incomplete, overlapping sentence is weighted with its full meaning. And breaking up the conversation are monologues of archetypal, Churchillian, linguistic complexity which somehow remain surprising – Findlay’s growing panic, Markham’s tremulous fear, Watson’s masterly swoop into seriousness, Bassett’s troubling wordplay, each solo brings with it the jolt of imagination and intelligence. And crucially, in the hands of such fine actors able to convey the intent of a playwright with still so much to say, a playful freshness that keeps Escaped Alone dancing lightly on its feet