Theatre review: Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped Alone’

Theatre review: Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped Alone’
ESCAPED ALONE by Churchill, , Writer – Caryl Churchill, Director – James Macdonald, Designer – Miriam Buether, Lighting Peter Mumford, The Royal Court Theatre, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

Innovative design and top female stars delight audiences in the iconic playwright’s exploration of human complexity

by Sarah Lafferty

This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the Royal Court Theatre and what better way to begin this year-long celebration than with the premiere of iconic playwright Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped alone.’

The title suggests much about the struggles of four elderly women who sit together in a small backyard trying to face their fears.

The all-star all-female cast deliver a heartfelt and lively performance which dramatically entertained the audience.

After the show I spoke with the gracious and warm Churchill who told me “The audience’s reaction was great and the cast were brilliant.”

ESCAPED ALONE by Churchill, , Writer - Caryl Churchill, Director - James Macdonald, Designer - Miriam Buether, Lighting Peter Mumford, The Royal Court Theatre, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/
Kika Markham (Lena) by Johan Persson

All four actresses Deborah Findlay, June Watson, Linda Bassett and Kika Markham have massive reputations in the industry and it’s a treat to see them spar using Churchill’s quick-fire dialogue.

The women discuss everyday things such as TV series, old and new shops in the town, wildlife and their jobs, while political and social messages add extra meaning to these discussions.

The beauty of this play is that we can enjoy their attempts at trying to understand the joy of flying, while the political undertones hint at a foreboding future. We get to glimpse behind the tragedies in these women’s lives, and although our questions are only partially answered, there’s a sense of resilience that these friends will keep foraging.

On the night, Stephen Rea (Best Actor Oscar nominee) was in attendance, which is no surprise since he and Findlay acted together in Neil Jordan’s classic, ‘The end of the affair.’ Watson also has an Irish connection because she played ‘Mammy’ in Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan,’ while Bassett starred in Conor Horgan’s award winning Irish short film, ‘The Last Time.’

It’s a testament to the Churchill’s brilliant writing that she got these top actresses to star in her play.

Theatre review: Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped Alone’
ESCAPED ALONE by Churchill, , Writer – Caryl Churchill, Director – James Macdonald, Designer – Miriam Buether, Lighting Peter Mumford, The Royal Court Theatre, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

This fifty minute one-act play is very innovative in its design. Red florescent light-tubes form two large squares at the foreground of the stage, which periodically light up when Bassett stands alone to deliver a report on an apocalyptic scenario which ravages our world.

Theatre review: Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped Alone’
Credit: Johan Persson/

The lighting also dims four times to allow each character to share their deepest fears with us.

It’s possibly this heavy drama which amplifies the humorous moments in this play and there’s a beautiful scene where the four women perform the Crystal’s hit ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ in harmony.

As would be expected from a Churchill play, ‘Escaped Alone’ has a surreal and fragmented feel, yet once again, she gets right to the heart of human complexity.

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