Far Away

Tuesday, 23 January, 2001
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

Caryl Churchill's dark and apocalyptic play "Far Away", which premiered at the Royal Court Upstairs in November last year has transferred to the Albery theatre. Since I did not see the play at the Royal Court I am unable to comment on whether the show has lost any of its suspense now that it has moved to a much bigger space. However, what I can say is that this is a most chilling and inexplicable play in which it is not easy at first to fully understand what is happening and what point Caryl Churchill is trying to make.

Directed by Stephen Daldry, this play, which lasts less than an hour, consists of three scenes. In the first scene a young girl, called Joan, is staying at her auntie's house. When Joan comes down from her bedroom and talks to her auntie (Linda Bassett) you see what looks like a nurturing scene, a caring woman looking after a confused child in a strange environment, however this perception changes when Joan begins to tell her aunt that she has heard screams from outside. Joan, unable to sleep sneaked outside where she witnessed a lorry full of people, including children, who appeared to be being beaten or killed. Her aunt tries to persuade Joan that she has imagined this and when this fails swears her to secrecy. Who are these people? What is their fate?

The second scene involves an older Joan, who has a job making hats. It is her first week at the job and she has befriended a young man who works next to her. While the man complains about his low wage and working conditions they both become attracted to each other. However, there seems to be some kind of atrocity happening around them, sinisterly involving the hats! Yet, both of them are very distance from the barbarism that they are involved in, even though they are aware of it! They are more interested in winning the competition for the best hat in the parade and gaining better working conditions.

The third scene, is even more strange and sinister than the first two. This time we are back to the aunt's house, but the conversations are bizarre and confused suggesting a break down in society and the nature of things where insects and animals have taken sides in some kind of war! Is this dystopia an analogy for humanities war on nature?

These three nightmarish scenes keep you transfixed and leave a horrible image in your mind.

The popular press had this to say about the play when it opened at the Royal Court Upstairs…. TIME OUT says, "Churchill has never written anything more chilling.." THE STAGE says, "Far Way is a 60-minute gem that questions…our complacent idea that atrocities only happen far away and long ago." THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Poetry, absurdism, moral seriousness, all come together." THE DAILY MAIL says, "The most astonishing new play of the year." THE GUARDIAN was more luke-warm saying , "While I am prepared to accept Churchill's thesis that we are slowly sliding into barbarism, I would prefer the case to be argued rather than presented as a dramatic given." And the DAILY TELEGRAPH was not too impressed saying, "A largely low-key and far from spectacular production."

"Far Away" is a drama that is thought provoking, shocking, confusing and fascinating. Definitely worth seeing, although I believe the ticket price is a little steep for a play that lasts less than an hour!


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