Tuesday, May 28

Escaped Alone – Traverse Theatre

A play by Caryl Churchill (written in 2016), at age 86 arguably Britain’s greatest living poet and playwright. Known for her dramatisations of the abuse of power, for her support of Palestine, and for her exploration of sexual politics and feminist themes. Also central to most Churchill plays is a fascination with surreal deconstruction and non-naturalistic techniques which puts her firmly in the uncompromising postmodernist camp.

Anyone coming to see a Churchill play will leave this one with a knowing smile, for those of us just coming to see a play, less so.

The structure of the short 50-minute piece is simple enough; two storylines run side by side, in the first four post-menopausal women sit in comfortable chairs chatting in broken sentences and half-words in a sunny garden, in the second we are subjected to monologues telling of a bleak dystopian future set against black and white projections of flowers dying.

In the garden chat we discover dark secrets from the past, a husband possibly murdered, a haunting of cats, a lingering depression. The narrative is clipped, broken, partly said, suggesting a deep understanding between the sisterhood.

A painful conclusive boom and changing in lighting signals the stark cut to the dystopian future, narrated in clipped no-nonsense sentences by the excellent Blythe Duff. The virus mutated exterminating plankton. A visually painful spotlight pointed directly at the audience burns us back into the sunny garden.

When the four women break into a very sweet rendition of Bye Bye Love it is a welcome and effective break.

Due to the speed of delivery and the cut language and cut scenes it does fee like information overload at times, like a truckload of hares have been released.

The poetic brilliance of Churchill’s writing is not in doubt, particularly in the dystopian scenes, and neither is the acting from Anne Kidd, Irene MacDougall, Joanna Tope and Duff, who as you would expect, put in a totally professional shift.

Where the play fails is in convincing us of a reason or logic in the cut scene format, the two storylines simply run along beside each other with no explanation or contact, which leaves little chance of connection or empathy with the characters. In short, the play is too generalised to make any real emotional impact.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 14th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.