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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Royal Court Theatre


  Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson/ Ph: Johan Persson

Who says they don’t write good parts for older women anymore? Caryl Churchill, herself 77, disproves this in her new play Escaped Alone at the Royal Court.
She’s assembled a quartet of ladies, all passed their physical prime, in a sun-drenched back garden in what would appear to be a regular tea-time gathering and in which all manner of topics – from the latest TV series and changes in high street real estate to their grandchildren and the National Health – are discussed. Well, more alluded to, really. We are, after all, in typical Churchill territory. Everyone speaks in sentences that rarely, if ever, are completed, communicating instead in elliptical phrases and non-sequiturs.
All have their own very different problems. Vi (June Watson), killed her husband and, as a result, spent six years in jail. Lena (Kika Markham) suffers to such an extent from agoraphobia that supermarket shopping is a nightmare for her. Sally (Deborah Findlay), an erstwhile medical worker, is terrified of cats (the animal, not the musical).
Completing the quartet is Mrs J (Linda Bassett), who, in the play’s most substantial role, regularly steps through the garden set’s fourth wall and into a world of stark blackness where she talks directly to the audience about an apocalyptic, dystopian universe in which famine and flood and all manner of horrors dominate on a biblical scale.
In a nutshell, we have a set of everyday human problems and fears juxtaposed with global catastrophe leading to the annihilation of the human race. Whichever way you cut it, we’re doomed. There’s naught for our comfort here.
The play is being offered as Churchill’s first full-length play for quite a while. Like the piece itself, that is open to interpretation. The running time is 50 minutes, five minutes longer than her play Here We Go, staged a couple of months ago by the National Theatre. By no stretch of the imagination can these plays be considered full length, and surely it would have made more commercial sense had they been presented as a double bill.
That said, I have nothing but praise for Escaped Alone’s excellent cast, for director James Macdonald’s subtle nuances in both the piece’s serious and more humorous moments, and for the striking light-versus-dark contrast in Miriam Buether’s set design. In the end, though, I cannot help feeling that what I’d been watching was four characters in search of a play.


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