The ladies with their mugs of tea sitting outside a cottage with a fenced-off lawn would have grown up with the song In An English Country Garden, whose tune introduces George Savona’s production of Escaped Alone at the Questors Theatre.
An excellent opportunity to see two of Churchill’s acclaimed works charmingly presented
Stephen Souchon’s set creates a genteel and idyllic surround, but this is Caryl Churchill and it’s not long before the surface impressions are eroded. She specified that the ladies be septuagenarians. This gives them a wealth of memories to draw on and stories to tell and seemingly nothing else to do in life but to reflect upon and rake over the past while reminding each other of distant events and trying to establish if that’s really how things happened. It’s a fine opportunity for senior members at Questors to assume centre stage. Alexandra McDevitt, Christine Fox and Helen Walker respectively play Vi, Lena and Sally. They give the impression that these little gatherings are quite common. The topics have probably been gone over many times. As their minds wander the subject often changes abruptly, as a thought or event comes to mind.
Each lady has her own main personal issue which is revealed in an interjected monologue heightened and cued by spotlights as part of the carefully constructed lighting design by Terry Mummary and Andrew Whadcoat and disturbing sounds effects by Russell Fleet. Despite issues ranging from feline phobia to a dreary existence in an office and an unfortunate incident in the kitchen with a carving knife which they carry with them, they are still able to return to everyday conversation as though nothing ever happened. For the most part it's rather bland chit-chat deliberately illustrating how banal most of life can be and how oblivious people are to what is really happening in the world and especially the prospect of an apocalyptic and dystopian future
These latter themes are vividly explored by their friend Mrs Jarrett who entered through the garden gate and joined them at the outset. Karla Patrick participates in the ordinary talk but has the task of delivering Churchill’s chilling visions of a world in chaos. Her dead-pan face and cold delivery symbolise the impending doom that awaits the world unwilling to to make dramatic social and ecological changes, elements of which are already upon is. The vividly bizarre imagery of these passages that is to a large extent nonsensical, stands out in contrast to the words of everyday life in the women’s conversations. They are two worlds that don't meet yet are inextricably bound to each other.
Then the gathering comes to end and Mrs Jarrett goes on her way. There is an interval while the stage is reset for What If If Only and we return to find Someone played by Tim Pemberton seated at table with a glass of wine, a magazine and an empty chair opposite. He addresses an absent partner who died at an early age. In a serenely composed performance his words form a pensive and quizzical lament and philosophical discourse on what was and what might have been, constantly posing the questions of “What if?” and “If only”, with which we are all so familiar. Karen Singer enters zephyr-like to hauntingly swirl around him as the symbol of Future, Futures and Present before being joined in the last minutes by Child Future, a role charred by Sophie Chen and Miren Curley.
Escaped Alone and What If If Only are both well-executed productions that provide an excellent opportunity to see two of Churchill’s acclaimed works charmingly presented.