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Theatre Review: Escaped Alone ****

Michael Cox reviews a challenging production 'with strong performances and crackling dialogue'.

Escaped Alone is an excellent example of enjoyably ambiguous theatre. There is little plot, yet the 50-minute play has more substance than most full-length plays and films. It also poses far more questions than solutions—even its title suggests more possibilities than concrete answers.

The set-up seems nice enough. Mrs Jarrett stumbles onto three fellow women above ‘a certain age’ who are conversing over tea in a lovely garden. She joins in on a conversation that bounces between the personal, the political and the mundane. They gossip, argue about revealing spoilers in a TV series and hint at past events. But occasionally, Mrs Jarrett addresses the audience with descriptions of a dystopian society, filled with decay and horror. Are these juxtapositions truth, pent-up fears or something else?

Caryl Churchill’s play never commits to an answer, but it leaves enough questions and breadcrumbs for one to connect dots.

Churchill is arguably one of the finest playwrights currently working, and the fact this play is from 2016 is in itself shocking—it feels like a reaction to COVID and lockdown and not a piece that predates those dark years. Churchill’s language is a joy to listen to: beautiful and poetic yet also vivid and violent.

But it really is about the four characters, and this is where director Joanna Bowman’s excellent staging takes flight. All four actors are terrific, individually and as a brilliant ensemble. Anne Kidd, Irene Macdougall and Joanna Tope have a wonderful interplay with each other and have individual monologues that allow them to blossom. They are delightful and interesting, but they are also harbouring fears they wish not to voice to each other. However, it’s Blythe Duff’s Mrs Jarrett who stands out. Duff has to balance being a contributor to the conversation with being a proclaimer of devastating truths of destruction yet to come—or have they already come to pass?

Escaped Alone is not necessarily an easy watch, but it is an intriguing one with strong performances and crackling dialogue. Near the end, a character has a moment where she simply repeats the words ‘terrible rage’, a condemnation that speaks of bubbling fear and anger. For all its humour and cleverness, Churchill’s play and Bowman’s production indeed simmers with a ‘terrible rage’. It might not be easy to hear, but that in itself makes it more important. Brilliant stuff all around.

Escaped Alone performs at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow until March 9, 2024, before transferring to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, running from March 13-16, 2024.

Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic.

Tags: theatre

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