Have you ever peeked through a window or a hole in a fence to see what was happening beyond? This Caryl Churchill play, Escaped Alone, is a delight for the inquisitive, a feast for the nosey and, as it opens, we see a fence and a gate, outsiders looking in. Mrs. Jarrett, played by Linda Bassett, takes the audience through the gate and into a back garden, where four women in their seventies are bathed in a ‘too perfect’ blue sky.
The weight of history, intertwined in casual conversation in a back garden, is palpable.
The set, built by Miraculous Engineering, is stunning. We are looking in on the perfect garden – a garden cloaked in claustrophobia. A garden that contains hidden stories of murder, tremendous rage, fear and depression. These stories simmer beneath the dialogue, which is classically Churchill in its fragments or snippets of human nature and the casual revelations that occur in a relaxed stream of consciousness, overlapping each other like waves.
Personally, I would prefer the pace to be slightly faster, so the dialogue might be less stilted with more believable interruptions. It feels a little too on the fence for me and it might benefit from a more stylised or naturalistic delivery.
The fantastic use of staging, taking us from the realistic and detailed back garden to a blackened stage – which becomes a backdrop to an apocalyptic monologue delivered by Linda Bassett – is mind blowing. It challenges the audience on the notion of ‘outsider’ and juxtaposes the action on the stage beautifully.
Often when a play is structured in a way that each performer delivers a monologue it can feel like a waiting game. Yet Churchill’s writing is powerful and at its best with the monologues for the characters in Escaped Alone. The depth and variety of self-expression of these four women is both exposing and inspiring. It will make you look twice at your neighbours and think about what stories are contained in their minds.
Escaped Alone shows at Bristol Old Vic until 26th March
Image by Johan Persson, with thanks