Escaped Alone @ Tron Theatre, Glasgow

The Scottish Premiere of Caryl Churchill’s 2016 play is exquisitely controlled and shrewdly simple – allowing the writing to truly shine

Review by Eliza Gearty | 05 Mar 2024
  • Escaped Alone

Four women gather in a garden. They’re all over a certain age, and a leisurely afternoon seems to stretch out before them. Drinking tea, they chat about tv shows, the local shops, old memories and former jobs. The women share updates about grown-up children and wonder about the sorts of things they probably never had time to before: what kind of bird would they most like to be? Did they really enjoy the work they used to do? Initially, Escaped Alone appears to be a story about a group of more-or-less contented retired women, happy to while away the time together as they slip into their twilight years. 

Except this is a Caryl Churchill play, and of course things aren’t quite so simple. Underneath the sun-drenched small-talk, dread bubbles up like a slow-rising flood. Sally (Joanna Tope) is obsessively petrified of cats; Lena (Anne Kidd) is deeply depressed; and Vi (Irene Macdougall) is doing her best to push down memories of a harrowing, violent incident and the resulting estrangement from her adult son. As suppressed anxieties and traumas rise to the surface, the domestic scene is periodically interrupted by blinding lights and sinister music, and the energy palpably shifts. During these periods, Mrs Jarrett (Blythe Duff), the outsider of the group, breaks away, moves upstage and delivers seemingly unrelated monologues about a terrifying world, one where starved children stream cooking shows in lieu of breakfast and desperate people sell slivers of their flesh.  

Churchill’s play is thought-provoking, slippery, and scrupulously crafted. No word is wasted here, and even the most mundane of observations carry an ambiguously meaningful weight. Director Joanna Bowman and designer Anna Orton honour their source material by delivering a similarly meticulous production. While the staging is simple, it's clear that every creative decision has been carefully thought through, from the length of the lawn that stretches out before the womens’ feet to the spacing between their chairs and how long they pause between reflections and confessions. The shrewd simplicity and attention to detail pays off - where another production might have been drawn to flashy staging, Bowman recognises that this would have overpowered the play’s intricate subtleties and tone shifts. The result is an ostensibly simple production that is threaded throughout with a quiet dread. 

The cast are wonderful too, playing off one another with ease and familiarity as they deftly peel back the layers of their characters’ fear and self-denial. Blythe Duff is particularly strong as she moves seamlessly between her role as quizzical gatecrasher and doom-sayer seer. Escaped Alone is a play that raises more questions than answers, but has intriguing things to say about the interconnections between intimate and global catastrophe, and the way we struggle to face the brutal realities of both. 

Escaped Alone, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 9 March, £11-20, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 13-16 March, £5-20.