Friday, 14 November 2014

Theatre review: Far Away

This year's JMK Award-winner is Kate Hewitt, who directs Caryl Churchill's Far Away at the Young Vic's Clare. It's a fairytale nightmare that follows Joan, first as a child (Emilia Jones or Sasha Willoughby,) who on a visit to her aunt Harper's (Tamzin Griffin) farm witnesses something horrific in the stables. As an adult, Joan (Samantha Colley) gets a job creating elaborate hats alongside co-worker Todd (Ariyon Bakare.) Their work is creative and beautiful, but the hats serve a grotesque purpose. Finally we see Joan, Todd (now her husband) and Harper all together, trying to stay safe from an enemy with eyes and ears everywhere. But the trio are as suspicious of each other as they are of anyone outside their walls, and in a world where anyone and anything could be an enemy, and allegiances shift constantly, it's hard to even know which side you're on.

Churchill's allegory seems to take in everything from underground rebel cells in corrupt regimes, to all-out world war. It's impenetrable in some ways but then that seems to be the point: In the final scene nations, professions, animals and eventually even abstract concepts are involved in a constantly shifting web of allegiances that leaves the characters understandably lost.

Hewitt provides focused direction for the short play, but the show's inevitably stolen by Georgia Lowe's design. The raised thrust stage blends in with the Clare's bland MDF walls, but hides trapdoors, hydraulics and other surprises that bring the nightmare world to life. The show's centrepiece is the parade the elaborate hats are designed for, that wows with its innovative staging in the restrictive space, while at the same time managing to be the most chilling moment of the play.

Far Away by Caryl Churchill is booking until the 29th of November at the Young Vic's Clare.

Running time: 40 minutes straight through.

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