Donmar Warehouse (venue)
15 February 2020 (released)
18 February 2020
It’s often on the journey home, rather than sitting in the dark of the theatre that the elements of a Caryl Churchill play start weaving together in the mind. The experience of actually watching her plays can be shocking, hilarious and baffling in the space of a few minutes so there’s often little time to think. ‘Far Away’ first produced in 2000 and running at only 45 minutes is no exception, leaving unprepared Donmar audience members stumbling out for a stiff drink. But Churchill has been challenging audiences since the 1970’s and if you’re willing to throw yourself into the adventure, there is a truth to this unfurling dystopian vision that is disturbingly familiar.
A young girl called Joan (Abbiegail Mills) wakes in the night after hearing a scream. She climbs out of the farmhouse window to find out what’s going on. Her aunt Harper, played by Jessica Hynes, a master at mixing the ordinary with the strange, is awake in the sitting room. Joan starts to ask question of her aunt, trying to make sense of what she has seen; a van, blood, screaming children, her uncle hurting them. Her aunt attempts to construct a narrative to explain away what she has seen but it crumbles under the weight of Joan’s nieve truth, leaving only a terrible, confusing darkness. In the next Act we find Joan grown up (now played by Aisling Loftus), working as a hatter for an equally suspicious organisation that turns out to be equally sinister. This time, her colleague (Simon Manyonda) is already asking the questions; who do they work for, who wears the hats and why they always burned?
Far Away seems to belong to contemporary art as much as theatre with its witty visual hat games and a terrifying mid-drama tableau. Lyndsey Turner’s direction is characteristically precise along with emphatically bold design by Lizzie Clachan. Churchill once said that ‘playwrights don’t give answers, they ask questions’ and Far Away dares its characters and its audience to do the same. Once Joan starts asking questions, any sense of normality erodes to reveal a corrupt society and still darker waters running beneath.
By the final act Churchill’s language loosens its ties to sense as the encroaching apocalypse emerges; ‘I didn’t know whose side the river was on’ says Joan, dishevelled and exhausted, after a long journey back to the farmhouse where she began to ask questions as a child. Churchill has written forty plays over the last sixty years and Far Away is one of the bleakest dystopian comedies out there. Go there all who dare…