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Escaped Alone and What If, If Only

by on 28 January 2023

Echoes of Futures Past

Escaped Alone  and What If, If Only

by Caryl Churchill

The Questors Theatre at Questors Studio, Ealing until 4th February

Review by Andrew Lawston

Two challenging plays from Caryl Churchill take up the intimate space of the Studio at the Questors Theatre tonight.  Both are brisk, under an hour in length, and walk a fine line between bleak and comic.

Escaped Alone brings four ladies together in a back garden on a summer’s day, to drink tea and gossip.  Except this meandering and often witty conversation is punctuated by monologues, often from the visiting Mrs Jarrett who relates impending visions of apocalypse.  As the back-projected sunny sky darkens, Mrs Jarrett begins to relate stories of four hundred thousand tonnes of rock crushing a town, and the gruesome lives led by the survivors.  Or she describes the public health crisis that resulted from food supplies being redirected to television cookery shows.

These fanciful visions of future desolation sit uneasily beside the chat between the three ladies at first, until troubling undercurrents begin to surface.  Whether it’s one woman’s conviction that cats will invade her home, or her friend who can no longer remember whether or not she was acting in self-defence when she killed her husband or whether she murdered him.

As apocalyptic visions and murderous revelations pile up, however, the mood is brilliantly reset as the four women break into an impromptu rendition of “Da Doo Ron Ron”.

Karla Ptacek, Alexandra McDevitt, Christine Fox, and Helen Walker excel as the four women locked deep in discussion.  The conversation flows easily and naturalistically between them, and director George Savona keeps up the pace even when Terry Mummery and Andrew Whadcoat’s lighting dims for one of the quartet to stand in a spotlight and deliver the next apocalyptic monologue.

After a brief interval, during which the Grapevine Bar is abuzz with chatter about the first play, What If, If Only begins.  While Stephen Souchon opted for a detailed back garden set for the first play of the evening, complete with a garden shed, several pot plants and the back-projected sky, for What If, If Only the audience is presented with a simple table and two chairs, set against some grey flats.

Tim Pemberton sits at the table as Someone, a bereaved man toasting his lost beloved and imploring her to give him a sign from beyond.  Pemberton’s desperate bereft performance grounds this fantastical play, before Karen Singer twirls on to the stage as Future, apparently offering Someone a chance to restore his beloved so long as he can make Future “happen”.

Pemberton gives a great performance as an uncertain and desperate man, and the contrast with Karen Singer’s mercurial Future is striking.  Where Escaped Alone allows its stories to emerge through meandering conversation, What If, If Only sparkles with pace and abstraction.

After Someone, in his confusion and desperation to recover his beloved, unwittingly unleashes all the other potential Futures, Russell Fleet’s sound design comes into its own as a cacophony of Future voices erupts across the stage and all around the auditorium, tantalising snippets of potential timelines.

Rejecting them all, Someone finds that Future has become Present, a much more pragmatic figure dealing purely with the “now”, and even warning Someone against the potential Futures, as Someone seeks a Future with his beloved, asking whether she still exists in any possible timeline.

The stalemate is only resolved by Child Future literally cartwheeling on to the stage, declaring triumphantly, “I’m going to happen.”  This winsome performance from Sophie Chen (on the evening we attended) comes close to stealing the show.

These two one-act plays from one of our greatest living playwrights makes for a challenging but enjoyable evening’s theatre that will stay with you long after the ninety minute running time.

Andrew Lawston, January 2023

Photography by Jane Arnold-Forster

One Comment
  1. Judith Edwards permalink

    Both plays are beautifully acted and directed.
    Well done to all involved in these two excellent productions. A mememorable experience.

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