Skip to main content

REVIEW: Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill

Julie Forsyth narrates the Apocalypse in
Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone
Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

Three women sit in a backyard, empty tea cups on the lawn by their feet, when a fourth woman – a neighbour, but an interloper – arrives and tries to fit in. It’s a Saturday afternoon ritual for these three ladies, who have known each other for years, talking about their favourite television shows, shops on the local high street, the weather, their families and parallel universes. It’s comfortable and mundane and there’s something scratching under the surface of their suburban lives, but they aren’t ready to acknowledge it yet.

Playing at just under an hour, Caryl Churchill’s play has a lot to say in an unconventional way – though not entirely surprising, if you’ve seen other works by her. This one felt very similar to her play Far Away, both engaging in its flights of surreality and sometimes maddeningly obtuse. The text does not allow the actors an easy time of it; the backyard discussions are poetic, not realistic and they demand a specific kind of rhythm.

Director Jenny Kemp, whose magnificent production of Top Girls at MTC in 2012 is something I still talk about, keeps the four actors perched on their cane chairs, only rotating them between scenes. It suggests, simply, ongoing conversations over weeks and months, but frustrates with the image being so static. The recurring blackouts and blinding lights used to disorient the audience quickly feels monotonous.

Each character is allowed their moment to shine in a soliloquy of their own, unearthing something troubling that they might not be truly honest about to their friends. These are the moments where the poetry of Churchill’s language really shines; much of the rest of the production suffers from very mannered performances.

Julie Forsyth is the stand-out on this stage – and in front of it, as the interloper with an inarticulate rage and as the narrator of an increasingly bizarre Apocalypse. Each time she interjects or is front-and-centre, I was captivated or amused or repulsed in a way that was missing from the rest of the show.

Something is happening out in the world that these privileged women seem to be protected from, left alone to debate minutiae while the world collapses around them. Perhaps they are not ignoring the end of the world itself, but they seem to be missing the warning signs.

Escaped Alone was first performed in 2016 and even though it was before the Brexit vote happened, this feels like a potent commentary on a class of people afraid of people climbing over their fences or finding their way through. It’s not even critical so much of these women, but of a society that affords them the luxury of worrying about each other, without really worrying about anyone else.


Popular posts from this blog

My Favourite Theatre of 2018

It’s that time of year again, when I look back over everything I saw on stage and put together a list of my favourite shows. I saw over 100 shows this year, mostly in Melbourne and a small number on one visit to Sydney.

I will link to reviews if I wrote one.
TOP TEN (alphabetical order)
The Almighty Sometimes – Griffin Theatre, Sydney
Kendall Feaver’s extraordinary debut play is about Anna, dealing with mood disorders and medication and the complicated relationship she has with the treatments and her mother. Superb cast and beautifully directed by Lee Lewis
Blackie Blackie Brown – Malthouse Theatre
Nakkiah Lui’s work is always amazing but this production, directed by Declan Green, was another step up for her – the satire sharper and bleaker and more hilarious than ever before.
Blasted – Malthouse Theatre
Sarah Kane’s debut play from 1990s London is a tricky beast tackling difficult subjects but Anne-Louise Sarks nailed it with a superb production.
The Bleeding Tree – Arts Centre Melbourne

Melbourne Fringe: The Mission by Tom Molyneux

The widespread use of Acknowledgement of Country throughout the theatrical community is a good reminder that we live and work and tell stories on a land that has been home to Australia’s Indigenous people for forty-thousand years. Any Fringe show presenting work on the lands of the Wurundjeri people in the Birrarung are continuing a very long tradition.
Performer Tom Molyneux’s Acknowledgement of Country feeds directly into the story of The Mission; “sovereignty has never been ceded” is a strong jumping-off point for a story about our Indigenous population’s autonomy.
This personal history begins thirty-thousand years ago at the forming of Budj Bim, a volcano in Western Victoria. The Budj Bim area is a very important one to the Gunditjmara people, a site where they developed a system of aquaculture, thousands of years before European settlement.
After European settlement, it was the site of Eumerella Wars, where the Gunditjmara were overwhelmed and killed by colonisers who had the su…

Melbourne Fringe: Sleepover Gurlz by Emma Smith & Vidya Rajan

Theatre can happen anywhere. It can happen in big rooms, small rooms, warehouses, carparks and shipping containers. I saw a show on the streets of North Melbourne once. And one in the back of a car.
Sleepover Gurlz isn’t the first play I’ve seen performed in a bedroom, but this one uses its space and its premise to great effect; the intimacy is vital and this show is as much about the bedroom space as it is about the women sharing it.
Before the show, the audience is ushered upstairs to a living area to colour and paste and find their inner child. It’s an irresistible moment of pleasure that you almost regret being dragged into the bedroom for the party itself.
Creators and performers Emma Smith and Vidya Rajan are six-year-old girls, welcoming the audience to their sleepover party. We are the other girls at the party, sharing snacks and interacting with the friends who have invited us over. It’s charming and funny and silly. There’s a game of “Chinese whispers” and the uninhibited th…