Pros: First class acting, brilliant as ever venue and not a dull moment.
Cons: Fifty minutes? It needed more. Fifty minutes doth a play not make.
I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I must congratulate the usher, who without any sense of irony announced as we entered the theatre, “Tonight’s show will be fifty minutes long, straight through, with no interval.” No interval, on a show that long, how would we cope?
So, a play of fifty minutes? At what point can you argue that it’s not a play? A book between 7,500 and 17,000 words is called a novelette; so under the same principle I feel Escaped Alone shouldn’t qualify as a play, rather a playette. Now I know it’s not all about the length, but at the same time, there is the issue of value for money. With so much great theatre available, you have to ask, do I want to spend £35 on a ticket for a playette of fifty minutes, or half that price or less for an actual full length play? And I suppose the answer is, it depends on the quality.
Well, therein lies the problem. Trying to decide whether Escaped Alone was good enough or not for the cost. Everything was right, but what would you expect from a show at the Royal Court. The stage was well designed, the everyday back garden brilliantly transforming into a blankness for the very strange but compelling monologues. The acting was faultless, as our four elder ladies all sat around gossiping in style. The humour was spot on, and even the bleakness of the monologues couldn’t fail to raise a chuckle.
So, what is Escaped Alone about? Four ladies sitting in their back garden, gossiping about the most mundane of things and occasionally shocking as they slip into something more than idle gossip. Interspersed between the chat are monologues from the most plain of the ladies. These are superbly done: the stage goes black and all we are left with is Mrs Jarrett standing alone, describing how human life ends. It’s disturbing, it’s compelling and it builds and builds as the afternoon sun drops in the garden and we wait to see how it will all connect. How will it come to an end?
And then the fifty minutes are up and that is it. We leave; we leave half expecting someone to tell us the interval is fifteen minutes – don’t be late back everyone! Except they don’t, that was it. The problem here was even though for fifty minutes I watched, smiled, laughed and appreciated, I still felt cheated. As we departed it felt wrong, like it should have just been an interval; that we would grab a quick drink then make our way back for the second half. It wasn’t just that it was only fifty minutes, it was also the fact there was no end, not even a hint of an end. It felt as if there actually should be a second half to continue the story, to link the parts together. But there wasn’t, that was it.
I’m sure others might have watched it and seen things I just didn’t. I’m sure that others will argue that that was the point, that we witnessed the ordinariness of life whilst deep down all is not as calm as it seems on the surface. I can respect those views, but it doesn’t change my opinion, that tonight I was cheated out of a play, or rather I witnessed a playette. If I was seeing this in some smaller theatre, paying the tenner you often pay at these venues, I might say it was compelling and a good idea. But tonight, at the Royal Court, instead I say it was not value for money and I would recommend you try something else instead.
Author: Caryl Churchill
Director: James Macdonald
Booking Until: 12 March 2016
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking Link: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/escapedalone