Dann Barber’s set design is startling as you walk in. A slice of countryside conversation taking place on a slice of countryside, four characters chatting on a lawn, but we can see what lies beneath. There’s dirt, plant roots, and broken pieces of china – the bones of an earlier time.
Escaped Alone is set on top and in front of this genteel strata as four friends – Sally (Caroline Lee), Vi (Margaret Mills), Lena (Marta Kaczmarek), and Mrs Jarrett (Julie Forsyth) – talk about their lives and what happened before.
The show is post-apocalyptic without any of the trauma. It has all the quaint sweetness of Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows, but none of the persistent sadness. It’s a casual, comfortable piece, with patches of darkness and reflection layered in. Interspersed between the group conversations is a compelling bout of expository near-beat poetry to get us up to speed.
The other three speak as if their previous lives were intellectual while Mrs Jarrett’s was rather… not. While unsure of her at first, she gradually settles in. The others may know something of complex math and quantum mechanics, but Mrs Jarrett knows the history of the neighbourhood.
So much of the show suggests “after” – from the subterranean crockery to the tea cups and saucers placed under each of their chairs, yet never in their hands. The four make the extraordinary – a phobia of cats, a husband killed in self defense – sound mundane and the mundane is fascinating…
Churchill’s language is beautiful, a sort of high-tea Nadsat where no one finishes a sentence. It’s terrific fun to listen to, increasingly feeling less like the intimate familiarity that comes with friendship and more like a new lexicon for a later time.
Caroline, Margaret, Lena, and Julie all give brilliant performances. Director, Jenny Kemp, is no stranger to Churchill’s voices, and here each character’s voice is clearly defined, and unmistakably individual. On this small patch of grass, these voices combine on a hypothetical sunny afternoon to exist in almost perfect equilibrium and are a joy to watch.
Red Stitch Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel Street, East St Kilda
Season continues to 30 June 2019
Information and Bookings: www.redstitch.net
Image: Margaret Mills, Marta Kaczmarek, Caroline Lee and Julie Forsyth star in Escaped Alone – photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Review: David Collins