“I am terrified by this dark thing/That sleeps in me;/All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.” Sylvia Plath
“I’m walking down a street and here’s a door in the fence and there are three women I’ve seen before, so I go in,” Mrs. Jarrett (Linda Bassett) tells us. She enters a backyard garden occupied by three middle aged, suburban peers on lawn chairs – Sally (Deborah Findlay), Lena (Kika Markham) and Vi (June Watson). Designer Miriam Butler manages to make it look familiar, yet slightly faux.
The friends know each other well. They finish one another’s sentences with pitch perfect timing, yet there’s no sense of intimacy. False starts and pauses are frequent. Each speaks as if she heard only a catch phrase of the other’s comment relating to her own life.
Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson
Talk ranges amiably: relatives, cafes, shops, “the chicken nuggets was the iron mongers and then the health shop…”, birds “eagles are fascists…America has eagles…Well?…”, cooking, jobs, television characters… It all seems usual until we learn that Vi may have murdered her husband with a butcher knife “it just happened to be in my hand…”, Sally has a psychotic break when cats are mentioned, and Lena’s not only agoraphobic, but manic depressive. “I sat on the bed till lunchtime. The air was so thick…”
Every parenthesis of conversation is followed by a blackout, whereupon Mrs. Jarrett appears in a double frame of orange, neon light (Peter Mumford) matter-of-factly describing a dystopian future of such detailed horror one wonders it rose from the same pen. You’ll cringe. Back and forth we go.
Jarrett’s own roiled subconscious is expressed in the garden with a repetition of two livid words. Eventually she departs as if nothing unusual occurred.
My best guess as to intention is showing that which lies under the surface on human and inhuman scale, how little we see, how easily lines are crossed. It is, as I say, a guess. Playwright Caryl Churchill excels in the unexpected. She experiments with format, regularly addressing issues of both feminism and out-of-hand power. Imagination conjures both worlds with articulate skill.
The four actresses, direct from London’s Royal Court Theatre, couldn’t be better. Each imbues her character with subtle attributes. Timing is impeccable, naturalistic focus complete. Director James MacDonald helms a splendid example of a symbiotic company.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Linda Bassett
The Royal Court Production of
Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill
Directed by James MacDonald
BAM Harvey Theater