Thursday, March 17, 2016

ESCAPED ALONE at Royal Court - Churchill's women...

Is it really 20 years since I sat in the famous Royal Court auditorium?  You know Constant Reader, I think it is.  Why the extraordinary space of time?  I usually find that Royal Court shows that I might want to see have no tickets available having all sold previously on the mailing list, plays that don't interest me, any number of things...

But I was intrigued about their latest production, a new play by veteran playwright Caryl Churchill, mainly because it had a cast of four cracking actresses which whetted my appetite to see them all onstage together.

Caryl Churchill doesn't do easy and after last year's disastrous National Theatre production of LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE it was remarkable that I wanted to expose myself to her again - as t'were.  But as I said, the opportunity to see Linda Bassett, Kika Markham, Deborah Findlay and June Watson onstage together was something I could not pass up... and oddly enough there were seats available.

A sunny afternoon, one of several.  Mrs Jarrett stands outside a garden gate and is invited in by Sally and her two friends who are chatting on their chairs, probably after a lunch.  Mrs Jarrett joins them in their aimless chatter about nephews and grandchildren, about the shops on the high street, about life in the summer, about nothing in particular as they start and finish each other's sentences.

But the odd occasional word seemingly triggers off fears or unsettled thoughts in each of the women: the seemingly-together Sally has a phobia of cats getting into her home, the thoughtful Lena reveals a crippling depression that leaves her trapped in her house sometimes, and outwardly-practical ex-hairdresser Vi reveals how life changed since being imprisoned for stabbing her husband.

But it's the seemingly benign Mrs Jarrett who seethes with an inward terrible rage which she repeats like a mantra to herself and - in startling abrupt changes of scene - seemingly steps out of the normal world of Sally's garden into a black neon-bordered hinterland where she calmly tells us of the dystopian nightmare of a man-made apocalypse which is where Churchill gives vent to so many obvious peeves: villages are crushed deliberately under rocks where survivors live on rats until drowned by rainfall, floods devastate the land, 80% of all food is given to TV companies for cookery programmes and those dying of starvation are given smart phones to look at rice.

These short, intense monologues are both funny and haunting as Churchill goes into microscopic detail about the horror the world will inflict on itself... but for now Mrs Jarrett, Sally, Vi and Lena can happily sit and sing "Da Doo Ron Ron" together.

At only 50 minutes there is no chance of Churchill's play outstaying it's welcome and although I will admit to some trepidation when the lights went down, by the end I found I had enjoyed the play and the production much more than I thought I would.  James Macdonald's production was tight as a drum although some of the actresses were better at seamlessly topping and tailing the constantly flowing chat between the characters.  Miriam Buether's set and Peter Mumford's also set the scene well enough to be shocked by the sudden wrench into limbo.

Be that as it may, what a joy to see such accomplished actresses all on the one stage in a new challenging play.  Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson all usually play supporting roles so it was a particular pleasure to see them all having a chance to support each other.  I probably didn't understand all that Churchill was actually saying but I enjoyed what I saw and heard while certain phrases and moments have stayed with me, which is what it's all about.

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