by Laura Ferguson
Three friends and a neighbour gather to talk about their lives. A simple notion, though the intricacies of the conversation are anything but. They talk about their families, their children, their lives, rarely in response to other people’s comments. They are focused on themselves, talking at instead of to each other. When there are moments of true conversation, they are uncomfortable truth-telling times. Interpretations of scenes long past, the inciting of phobias, mean-spirited jokes aimed at another’s pain, these show the cracking of what society deems acceptable. When being polite suddenly and briefly gives away to a seething putrid filth, one which all of us are capable of.
Mrs. Jarrett’s (Ginette McDonald) post-apocalyptic nightmares particularly shake me. Having 80% of food come through television, fresh water drying up while sea water rises, man-made wind becoming a killing force. All of these examples are told to us by McDonald in an unaffected ton;, the shock and disbelief gone because in her world these occurrences did happen, or will happen, or are happening. I interpret them as scathing social commentary highlighting the evils of modern society, but they could be seen as the great incidents of the Bible, or of post-apocalyptica that has not yet happened.
During these times, McDonald stands to the side, out of the boxed-in garden with the others, seperated from their domestic bliss, by outside horrors. The visual of the walled-up garden which McDonald steps out of, brilliantly uses the specifications Churchill, herself outlines, arranged by set designer John Hodgkins. However, there are some clever additions that are small but substantial that Hodgkins and director Susan Wilson make themselves, such as the crack in the pavement tiles where Mrs. Jarrett stands to tell her horrendous tales. The cracks are metaphors for a great many things, which my companion and I analyse afterwards. I thought they were metaphors for the cracks in the façade of the social interactions taking place on stage, whereas my friend believed the cracks were meant to represent the coming of disaster and the aftermath of it, as many a Christchurch resident can attest to.
Many aspects of this play can be seen as metaphorical and Churchill has a mastery over this, every word has meaning and every sentence steeped in nuance. Churchill’s ability to really get into the mind would astonish me. Each of the three friends, Vi, Lena and Sally (played respectively, by Carmel McGlone, Jane Waddell and Irene Wood) as well as the neighbour, Mrs. Jarrett, get monologues. These speeches express their individual insecurities and demonstrate the very essence of themselves. Churchill’s way of illustrating her characters makes them fully flesh and blood, the parts of ourselves we fear but also cradle with tenderness so they bruise us no longer.
Whether it is Wood’s depiction of a phobia, Waddell’s of depression or McGlone’s expression of guilt, the actors do an incredible job during these lines. Filled with emotion, but keeping that repression that has been a constant floatation device during their gathering, my stomach clenched, roiling with a sickened empathy for what these women have gone through. The monologues have such a clarity that the conversation between them does not. When talking to each other, the characters talk over and through each other and do not really listen. However, when the spotlight hits them and everything else pauses, they turn to us speaking quietly and refined while their tense bodies and eye contact scream at us to please, please listen. If we will not listen, then horror has come again.
As we get up to leave, I felt a tap on my arm, “What did you, young people think?” a group of more senior women asked us. “I loved it. The language was so beautiful,” I replied, eagerly. They glanced at each other knowingly. One sighed, “I guess it would be beautiful, if you haven’t lived it.” Some will love it, as I did. The words and the acting combined with the brilliant direction to execute a difficult play with aplomb and sophistication. Others, though, may find it Ginette McDonald’s insight to be the truth, that Escaped Alone “brings to life a place they do not wish to be”. Because of this, it is not difficult to see why this may be a hard play to watch, but I enjoyed the perilous journey so much that I would gladly lose my way through it again.