Escaped Alone - Audition Notice

‘Escaped Alone’ by Caryl Churchill

Key Dates:

Sunday 11th April 6pm - A presentation about the play & our production will be streamed via YouTube. (And availble after this point to watch.)

Thursday 15th April - Closeing date for submission of audition forms (included below)

Sunday 18th April, 4pm -   Auditions (via Zoom) –  Please note individual audition times will be scheduled and sent out on Saturday 17th April.

Sunday 2nd May - Rehearsals to start (initially via Zoom then in person once we can use the theatre)

Monday 28th June onwards - Filming week.

As the TTC Board and Play Selection Committee plan for our return to the Hampton Hill Theatre, we all obviously want to make the most of this long-awaited opportunity.  So, while we gear up for our first in-the-flesh, three-dimensional show, the PSC will also be seizing the chance to rehearse and then shoot a filmed play on the mainstage! That play will be Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped Alone’, which I’m thrilled to be directing, assisted by my fellow-PSC member Douglas Schatz.  Along with the other PSC members (Heather Mathew, Becky Tarry and Andy Smith), we recently directed the ‘Lockdown Monologues’ and this is a more ambitious extension of that initiative.

For those who don’t know the play, it premiered at London’s Royal Court in 2016, directed by Caryl Churchill’s long-standing collaborator James Macdonald and starring a superb quartet of actresses: Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson. This is probably the over-riding reason why I want to direct the play: it provides four fabulous roles for older women - a much overlooked demographic in both theatre and life.  After a year of lockdown, this production will give four of our more mature members the chance to flex their theatrical muscles again, but in a safe, socially-distanced way.

The play

Caryl Churchill is universally acclaimed as one of our greatest living playwrights; Stephen Daldry, who was Artistic Director of the Royal Court in the 1990s, has called her “one of the great innovators of post-war British drama”. The play itself was almost universally praised by the critics, although admittedly a few were somewhat bemused.  It received five-star reviews from the likes of ‘The Observer’ and ‘Time Out’, with Andrzej Lukowski, in the latter, saying that “It’s hard to imagine you’ll come across a more brilliant play this year”.  Michael Billington, in ‘The Guardian’, described it as “Churchill at her best, observing with wry compassion how people actually talk”. And that is one of its glories: for most of the time, we’re in a sunny suburban garden, overhearing three old friends and a new arrival simply chatting.  Every so often though, the new arrival steps out of the scene to tell us stories of apocalyptic death and destruction.  As the original marketing put it so well: “Three old friends and a neighbour.  A summer of afternoons in the backyard.  Tea and catastrophe”.

This juxtaposition between the seemingly humdrum and the horrific lies at the heart of the play’s power.  After its run at the Royal Court, ‘Escaped Alone’ transferred to New York, with the same cast, where Ben Brantley, chief theatre critic of ‘The New York Times’ wrote: “The play’s combination of theatrical technique and untrammelled imagination, and of the personal and the universal, make you understand why Ms. Churchill is regarded by many (rightly, I think) as the most dazzlingly inventive living dramatist in the English language”.

In a world just starting to vaccinate its way out of lockdown, the play seems unerringly prescient.  Although it can be seen as a bleak forewarning of a dystopian world, I actually think that it’s very funny, albeit in a satirical, surreal way.  Michael Coveney, for What’sOnStage, called it Churchill’s “funniest play to date”, and, for once, I agree with him. ‘Escaped Alone’ can probably be best summed up by Harold Pinter’s remark that “life is beautiful but the world is hell”: which again must resonate with many after their experiences of the past year. Thinking of Pinter, like much of his later work, ‘Escaped Alone’ is nice and short.  Running at no more than an hour, it’s ideal material for a short film, and packs an amazing amount into its modest frame.  It is also, as I have said, a splendid vehicle for a quartet of mature and marvellous actresses.

The roles

Caryl Churchill was 77 when she wrote the play, and her characters are intended to be of a similar age.  She actually specifies that “they are all at least seventy”.  I’m happy to widen that age range a little, to include anyone who feels that their playing age starts at 60.  The original quartet of actresses’ real ages stretched from 66 to 81.  Really, you just need to look old enough to have grandchildren! These are the kind of roles that rarely come up, particularly in the world of amateur theatre.  They are fully-rounded, three-dimensional, drawn with humour, warmth and precise observation.  That said, Churchill has consciously given the actors the freedom to create their own backstory.  She has almost dispensed with stage directions entirely, and the script is deliberately open-ended.  Apart from the age restriction, the actors can make the roles their own.

It’s this room for manoeuvre that particularly appeals to me, and I hope will attract others.  We can enjoy the journey of creating and exploring these characters in the rehearsal room.  Certainly, at this stage, I have very few preconceptions about the four ladies, and am very willing to flesh them out in full collaboration with the cast. With that in mind, I’m equally happy for auditionees to indicate a preference for a particular role or to have no preference.  Indeed, it might be more helpful if people indicated which role, if any, they would not wish to play as well as stating any that they would prefer to.

If it helps your deliberation, there are a few indicators that we’re given in the text:

Sally
• It’s her garden
• She was a medical worker – a doctor or nurse or possibly even a surgery receptionist
• She’s a grandmother, with her eldest grandchild about to start university
• We discover that she has a pathological hatred of cats, although I think her own character suggests something rather feline!

Lena
• Is the most introverted of the group
• She tends to speak straight from the heart
• She’s clearly agoraphobic, making a trip to Tesco a daunting challenge
• She used to work in an office
• She’s also a grandmother, and concerned, she hints, about her son’s shaky marriage

Vi
• Is the most vituperative of the group
• She probably gets the most obvious laughs
• She was a hairdresser
• She spent six years in jail for a crime I don’t want to enlarge upon here
• She’s got a son whom she doesn’t see very often, but also at least one nephew and lots of nieces
• We don’t hear of any grandchildren

Mrs Jarrett
• Reveals the least about herself
• We do know however that she’s got a son called Frank and two replacement hips
• Oh, and she was a lollipop lady for a month
• She is the new addition to the group, whereas Sally, Vi and Lena have clearly known each other for years

In addition, there’s some largely controlled tension between Sally and Vi, and I get the sense that Sally and Lena are, or see themselves as, more upmarket than the more working class Vi and Mrs Jarrett.
Amid all the small talk and reminiscing, Churchill gives Sally, Vi and Lena each an exquisite gift of a monologue, which reveals more of their inner lives.  Mrs Jarrett, who doesn’t say as much during the group scenes, is treated to no less than seven monologues (which will be delivered ‘straight to camera’), describing not her internal thoughts but, like a modern-day Cassandra, the horrors she sees the world bringing upon itself.

Audition pieces will be available from 11th April.  For the audition, we’d like you to deliver one monologue of your choosing (from the pieces supplied), as well as to read one of the group scenes along with three others.  The play script is available from: Concord Theatricals:  https://www.concordtheatricals.co.uk/s/59942/escaped-alone

The logistics

As well as taking advantage of the freedom Churchill gives us in terms of characterisation, we will also need to be flexible with the logistics!
We will start by rehearsing via Zoom, but aim to get face-to-face as soon as Government regulations allow.  We will obviously only go into the theatre when it is safe to do so, but the very nature of the play means that social distancing is a given: the ladies are all sitting apart, and Mrs Jarrett is the only character who actually needs to get up, although I might incorporate a limited amount of additional movement for the others.

I also hope that we will be able to use the theatre for day-time rehearsals, if that would work for, and was a benefit to, the selected cast.  We will then film on the main stage, with a minimal crew.
I’ll admit that ‘Escaped Alone’ isn’t the easiest play to read, but I believe that it will be a truly wonderful one to explore, rehearse, perform and watch.  Pre-lockdown, I would go to three theatre shows a week on average, most of which I couldn’t remember a week later.  ‘Escaped Alone’ has stayed with me. How can you not remember and indeed love a play where, for the sheer mischievous pleasure of it, the entire cast launch into a spontaneous song a cappella?  In the Royal Court version, it was “Da Doo Run Run”, but we’ve got other ideas…

So I hope I’ve encouraged you to audition, if you fit the stated demographics!  If you’ve any questions or concerns, please do get in touch with me at dw@danielwain.com

 

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