Escaped Alone

Posted on: 10 February 2016 by Laurence Green

Laurence reviews Caryl Churchill's new dark black comedy Escaped Alone at Royal Court Theatre.

Escaped Alone at Royal Court Theatre

I had been looking  forward to Caryl Churchill's new dark black comedy Escaped Alone (Royal Court Theatre) but in the event it turned out to be a major disappointment.

We first encounter chatty, rain-coated Mrs Jarrett (Linda Bassett) walking along the street, and  when she sees three women sitting on chairs in a suburban garden, she joins them. On the surface their everyday, sunlit conversation is ordinary and superficial , but at the same time has a familiar, staccato quality, stop-starting and abrupt. This quartet of ladies in retirement talk about their grandchildren, chit-chat about the past, about old money, but also about drones and microbes, modern technology, worlds within worlds. One of them, Vi (June Watson), a hairdresser, has killed her husband and spent time in prison for manslaughter. Another Lena (Kika Markham) reveals the hardships involved in her office job and a third, Sally (Deborah Findlay), a medical worker, turns out to have a terrifying cat phobia.

In between the banter Mrs Jarrett, who emerges as a cross between an oracle and trustworthy aunt, delivers post-apocalyptic bad tidings. Her speeches of catastrophe are delivered in a frame of sizzling red neon lights and involve a mind-blowing mixture of floods, fires, avalanches, chemical warfare, hunger, starvation, planes with sick passengers diverted to Antarctica and a blackened country where zero growth and zero politics have led to charred stumps being saved for art and biscuits. What does this all mean? I have no idea.

This 55-minute work is not so much a play as a series of monologues, lacking dramatic development, shape and logic, and the piece falls between two stools-character-driven light comedy and absurdist nightmare. The title, Escaped Alone, is taken from the Book of Job - "I only am escaped alone to tell thee" and serves to identify the role of Mrs Jarrett.

Miriam Buether's sun soaked garden, provides a realistic setting, while Peter Mumford's lighting and Christopher Shutt's sound help bring off the transitions between sunlight and dark foreboding.

But I was expecting more from the writer of such acclaimed works as Top Girls, Cloud Nine, Serious Money, A Number and Far Away. Indeed my interest was only held because of the fine performances by the actresses involved, in particular Linda Bussett, on her customary top form, all of whom manage to come increasingly into their own.

Escaped Alone

Runs until 12 March 2016
Box office: 020 7565 5000

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