It really is quite something that even now, after all these years, Caryl Churchill’s work is so radical in form and content that her work stands alone, impossible to compare with any other playwright working today.
Escaped Alone blends beauty and darkness, the present and the speculative future, to cause us to consider our humanity. Which parts of our lives do we reflect on with warmth and happiness? Which memories do we cherish – and which do we choose to forget?
Four women sit together, enjoying the last few rays of a summer evening in a back garden. They laugh, they sing, they bicker a little. They talk about children and grandchildren, and they try to remember those shops on the high street that have been and gone.
But for all the lightness, there is shade too. All are holding their deepest fears close to their hearts, their warm chatter masking secrets and suffering they prefer to keep to themselves.
This is an examination of humanity, for sure. But, more than shade, there is darkness here too. For shot through these wistful reminisces is a series of short, sharp scenes when the stage plunges into black and one of the women, Mrs Jarrett (Linda Bassett) appears, narrating an apocalypse that is yet to come, or that has already passed.
The timeline is unclear, deliberately opaque. We are neither in the present nor the future. We are told of our demise both as if it is happening, and as if it has already been and gone.
Yet even as Mrs Jarrett describes the passages of the human race defeated as much by itself as by environmental collapse, there’s a perverse poetic beauty to Caryl’s vision. She imagines children capturing seagulls for food with their kites, gas masks in a range of colours (for those with private medical insurance), and where abundant food is a prize in a national lottery.
It’s dark and beautiful, short but epic. For in just one hour, Escaped Alone forces us to confront the question, when everything around us becomes rubble and dust, when even the plankton shrivel and die, does any of this matter? Our dreams and fears all blown away like dust on the wind. That is the part of our humanity we must face – our transience, our impermanence.
Royal Court Theatre, London to March 12, 2016
Image Credits: All photos credited to Johan Persson
- Linda Bassett (Mrs Jarrett), Deborah Findlay (Sally), Kika Markham (Lena) and June Watson (Vi)
- Linda Bassett (Mrs Jarrett)