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FringeReview Scotland 2024

Escaped Alone

Tron Theatre Company

Genre: Drama, Theatre

Venue: Tron Theatre


Low Down

One day, a neighbour comes calling on three neighbours.  Their conversation meanders across  a variety of the everyday topics from a television series, a fear of cats, possible early onset agoraphobia, and  an a Capello rendition of Bye, Bye, Love. Meanwhile the visiting neighbour takes to the stage behind them, in the background to deliver a dystopian and faintly ridiculous narrative about the destruction of our planet: impending doom faced by us and ignored every day. Each of our characters also get monologues to explore their back story including a revelation of domestic abuse which led to a fatal ending and a long stretch.


Credit Mihaela Bodlovic

L-R Anne Kidd as Lena, Joanna Tope as Sally, Irene Macdougall as Vi and Blythe Duff as Mrs Jarrett

There is the whiff of the impossible in a play which apparently takes as its title the Melville quote, “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” at the end of Moby Dick. In the Scottish premiere of a Caryl Churchill play, from about 8 years ago when it wowed at the Royal Court, perhaps the greatest regret is that it is more prescient now than it ever was. Like the search for the whale, the size of the environmental problems facing us should be so easy to spot but here they are somewhat ignored as they build, whilst we are obsessed with the mundane. But there is far more than that at play here.  When Churchill sought to highlight the global catastrophe, we face she provided four deeply challenging, yet instantly recognisable character studies which resonates and enchant in equal measure. She makes clear that our domestic sages should be at least 70 years of age for a reason.  There is something beautiful in the telling of each tale, slowly emerging from each of Anne Kidd (Lena), Irene Macdougall (Vi) and Joanna Tope (Sally). Each layer of revelation is developed into a firm trait which our actors are able to use in their tentative yet sweetly observed studies of each of the women of a certain age who are trying to guide us through the mundane, but highly important. The mistake would be to miss the importance of a theatrical style which gives more than contrast: within each character is a symptom of our age which has roots in the fear of our present state. It is the genius of this production that they have significantly matched that to three actors who can easily provide their A game.

When the visiting neighbour, Blythe Duff as Mrs. Jarrett, speaks to us from a pedestal behind their domestic setting, she delivers such perfectly poised linguistic dexterity of the absurd which is then used to highlight the absurdity of our times – such as famine breaking out when 80% of food is diverted to TV programmes or that people will just watch breakfast on iPlayer. In both, Churchill delves deep, drops hints, foreshadows, develops themes and then pops them later answering the questions posed with equally difficult to take seriously answers.

But, having been given a perfect platform, it is what Joanna Bowman has done with it which makes it all the more delicious. This is crafted in speech, sensitively directed onstage and performed with a depth of skill verging on the exemplar. It has nuance and detail in each performance helped by the approach taken by Churchill of overlapping dialogue. It is also the deft management of an immensely attentive cast who manage to imbue each line with a resonance that indicates years of craftsmanship. Characterisation and relationships between each are given space to develop and breathe in the company of each other – the respect of each as scenes develop and egos are parked to make it work that much better. You get the sense that each performance shall be an opportunity to try yet another nuance out, a sigh, a glance, a change in tone or emphasis. This is never more so apparent at the laughs – frequently experienced -a s the cast know when and where to pitch the guffaws and wait for the giggles to subside.

In giving us the straitjacket of age, Churchill has delivered a freedom for creativity. Who knew?

Technically , aside from making me jump at the first interlude when Duff goes to deliver her first monologue, this has a haunting soundscape by Susan Bear, some very dramatic lighting changes by Colin Grenfell and a feel to it of exactly what was intended – once again superb video work by Lewis den Hertog.

In short, it’s apocalyptic, funny, and a masterclass. Not a bad night out…