Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, and June Watson
at the Royal Court
Photo by Johan Persson
030 – Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill
The setting seems ordinary enough. Four women of a certain age sitting in a suburban garden chatting over tea. They talk of the usual things: children and grandchildren, the local shops, the latest TV series and the jobs they used to do. But each of them harbours darker thoughts that simmer below the social surface, prompting moments of private or sometimes more public anxiety.
The peace of these scenes in the garden is even more disturbed when from time-to-time one of the women steps away from the others to tell us about shocking, even surreal, disasters that have struck the world. What world is she describing? How does she know about what she is telling us? Is it some warning about an apocalypse to come?
This is the unsettling yet unforgettable dramatic landscape of Caryl Churchill’s stunning play Escaped Alone. The play was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in 2016, and was revived again in 2017 with the same cast, before transferring to New York. This is the first Caryl Churchill play that we’ve covered, and I’m delighted finally to be doing one of her titles, not least because in our play poll listeners and guests have recommended Caryl Churchill more than any other author. Her body of work contains many of the most innovative works in the catalogue of modern drama. She is renowned for her relentless experimentation in form, as well as her political consciousness and the precise poetry of her language. Her work has an unfailing power to dramatize the anxieties that dominate our contemporary world, and in the case of Escaped Alone to present an extraordinarily prophetic vision of a world overcome by collective disaster.
I’m joined in this episode by an expert in Caryl Churchill’s work, Elaine Aston. Elaine is a Professor at the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, and the author of two books on the work of Caryl Churchill.
The film production of Escaped Alone will be streamed online at 7:30 pm each evening for five nights from 2-6 September 2021. Click here to purchase tickets from the Teddington Theatre Club.
Elaine Aston is a Professor at the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, and the author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill which she has updated in three editions published by Northcote House, as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill and the Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights from Cambridge University Press. Elaine is acclaimed for her work on theatre research and feminism, publishing several books on Feminist Theatre Practice, and currently serves as the President of the International Federation for Theatre Research.
The Footnotes to our episode on Caryl Churchill’s prophetic play Escaped Alone include further thoughts on Churchill’s uncanny prescience, as well as some background on the experience of filming the play during lockdown.
Tom Stoppard’s ambitious new play Leopoldstadt is a sweeping work of history and ideas which charts the diaspora and decline of an Austrian Jewish family through the convulsive events of the first half of the twentieth century. It addresses profound moral questions of identity, memory and prejudice that are insistently relevant in our time. It is not only a towering intellectual achievement, it is also very personally poignant because it is based partly on Stoppard’s own remarkable family history.
Leopoldstadt opened in the West End in January 2020, only to be closed prematurely by the pandemic a few weeks later. Happily it has returned to the London stage this Autumn, and I am privileged and delighted to talk in this episode with the director of the London productions, playwright Patrick Marber.
Footnotes Volume 3 is a recording of the facts and observations that we’ve published on the website to supplement the plays that we’ve covered in episodes 24-31. A smorgasbord of trivia and analysis ranging from Greek Tragedy to the stock characters of Commedia dell’Arte , through the music of Bob Dylan, the filming of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone during lockdown, and the theatrical installations of Samuel Beckett.
A compendium of dramatic intelligence!
Samuel Beckett’s third great dramatic masterpiece Happy Days is a timeless exploration of existential threat and personal survival. It’s central image of Winnie buried in a mound of scorched earth also speaks to our own time when many have endured enforced confinement in a world struck by collective disaster.
Irish actress and Beckett scholar Lisa Dwan, fresh from her triumphant performance as Winnie at the Riverside Studios in London, joins us to share her unique experience of playing Beckett and this majestic play.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …