Sunday, 29 January 2017
Review Escaped Alone
by Caryl Churchill
Apocalypse Some Time
"Good fences," the American poet Robert Frost once famously said, "Make good neighbours.". In Escaped Alone, which returns to the Royal Court after a successful run in the beginning of 2016, a jaunty Mrs Jarrett (Linda Bassett) pops through an apparently random open door in a fence where, she tells the audience, "inside there are three women I've seen before".
In this way we are introduced into designer Miriam Buether's bucolic walled garden, an almost medieval oasis for three seated 70 something ladies with a chair for Mrs Jarrett as they trade gossip over tea on the state of things in their neighbouring lives.
It may not be the Bretton Woods Conference or even a Parliament of Housewives, but it is a mental and, apparently, physical space apart from the hustle and bustle of life in the street outside and their own everyday existence.
The host is retired medic Sally (Deborah Findlay) whose phobia about cats makes them sound more like an arm of state surveillance akin to computer chips than familiar felines. Gentle Lena (Kika Markham) seems to suffer from agraphobia, even if she grasps the mechanics of soap opera when others descend into emotion - "... but you're meant to think that ...". Meanwhile hairdresser Vi (June Watson) turns out to possess not only a sharp tongue but to have handled something sharper with fatal consequences.
Their superficially meandering chit chat ranges over a pot-pourri of subjects: Their famlies; carpentry; new technology; marriages - happy and unhappy -, old shillings and pence, the changing face of the High Street, the latest series (soaps and dramas rather than cricket), a snippet of an old 1960s' song that became an advert jingle earworm. At the same time they also cover waves, particles and microbes.
A generation caught in the transition 'twixt book and screen, the women's chat is divided into sections by the outsider, Mrs Jarrett, stepping again outside the garden into a blackened space framed by red glowing skeins, possibly screen edges.
Here, outside of the blue sky women's world, Mrs Jarrett conjures up destructive visions of biblical proportions, almost like an alternative comedy standup taking fragments from our lives, recent history and turning them inside out into ironic prophesies of doom laced with wit.
The title Escaped Alone comes from the epilogue of the apocalyptic whale-hunting classic nineteenth century American novel Moby-Dick with its ur-source in the biblical Book Of Jonah. Like the narrator of Moby-Dick, Mrs Bassett forms an immediate relationship with the audience while stepping into the walled garden and digressing into poetic monologues.
At a short, sharp 55 minutes, directed by James MacDonald, this is no Moby-Dick of a play and feels like a fragment. But it's a sharp, satisfying fenced off little play with an inner rhythm keeping up the momentum, each of the actors as the neighbours in the walled garden having their moment in the sun. We enjoyed it and it's a green light for a Carly Churchill's secular addendum to the bible, the Book Of Mrs Jarrett.