Escaped Alone – Footnotes
In our Footnotes to the episode on Escaped Alone I’ve shared some background on my experience filming the play with our local theatre group, as well as some further thoughts on Caryl Churchill’s uncanny prescience.
Filming Escaped Alone during lockdown
I am privileged to be a member of the play selection committee at my local amateur theatre club, and during the past 18 months it has been very difficult to plan future productions in our theatre. We decided that one way we could continue to make theatre happen in some form would be to stage a play in the theatre without an audience, and film the result for presentation online. We knew that with various lockdown restrictions in place we would have to choose a play that we could mount while complying with the legal and moral criteria in place. This meant choosing a title with a small cast – we might be limited to having no more than six people together during rehearsal for example; and that also required a relatively simple single set, and minimised the physical interaction within the cast. We selected Escaped Alone firstly therefore because with its cast of four sitting fixed in their garden chairs throughout it could be practically staged maintaining social distancing.
There were a number of other equally compelling reasons that we wanted to do Escaped Alone: the play offered four wonderful roles for older women, a fact that is probably unique on the stage; it also displays all of the challenging power as well as the humour characteristic of Caryl Churchill’s wonderful language; and finally, because of the extraordinary prescience of its vision of a world overcome by collective disaster. The play speaks to our fears about the future of the planet, as well as our personal anxieties, for example when isolated by age or the pandemic, while also offering some salvation in the strength of our community, as friends, neighbours or open-minded theatre goers.
When it came to staging the play our director, Daniel Wain, had the vision to realise that we had an opportunity to film the play not just as a record of a single theatrical performance, but as a film in its own right. This meant that we could shoot the production in multiple takes and with different camera angles and perspective, rather than as a single run-through. We hoped that this would provide additional detail and texture to the dynamics between the characters, as well as an enhanced focus on the intense personal monologues that each of the women deliver. It also offered an opportunity to suggest a particular interpretation of Mrs Jarrett’s role as the messenger or narrator in the form of the play.
After weeks of rehearsal with the text via Zoom, in our gardens and finally in the empty theatre, we were ready to film. We spent a day constructing the set, and setting up the lighting, sound and camera infrastructure; followed by four long, intense days of filming to complete the 124-page shot list. The cast were phenomenally patient and professional, delivering funny, deeply moving performances, often many times over! It was an enormously rewarding, collaborative experience, which felt like an appropriately resilient and communal response to the challenge of the pandemic. One that we hope is also true to the spirit of Caryl Churchill’s prophetic play.
Teddington Theatre Club’s film of Escaped Alone will be broadcast online for five nights from 02-06 September 2021. Click here for more information and to buy tickets to watch.
Elaine joked during our conversation in the podcast that if Caryl Churchill writes about something happening in the future in a play, that event will come to pass! It is impossible not to be struck by Churchill’s prescience in the pictures she paints in Mrs Jarrett’s monologues of a world overcome by environmental disasters, as well as by the violence and anarchy that may ensue when mankind fights over scarce resource, or law and order has broken down under the pressure of extreme events. Although the language or images she uses may seem too surreal to be true at times, the detail is so close to what we know that it feels that it could happen, or already has.
It reminds me of the extraordinary reality of another prophetic writer, Margaret Atwood, who famously said about her novel The Handmaid’s Tale that it contained nothing that hadn’t already happened somewhere in the world.
As Elaine also suggested Mrs Jarrett is like the messenger in Greek drama who brings truth the characters do not want to hear. I was reminded of the sooth-sayer Tiresias from Oedipus Rex and Antigone, for example, who despite his physical blindness is able to see and tell us unpalatable truths. Caryl Churchill is a sooth-sayer of sorts I think.
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 …