Escaped Alone is brilliant for largely the same reasons spending time with your nan is brilliant: there are jokes and stories, full of warmth and humour and told over tea, reflecting the simplicity and comfort of the ordinary. Once, every now and then, the stories will turn and in them there is a hint of darkness, glossed over by a history you will never know, lost in cups of tea and over time, to leave only a trace of something sinister in an otherwise sunny little chat.
This is a celebration of women like your nan; women who are complex, clever, troubled, loved and who have stories and thoughts of varying importance to share. It feels strangely joyous to be given nearly an hour to watch these four elderly women talk, and to absorb something of a group that is not often seen on stage.
Conversation takes up most of the show, but it is punctuated by monologues outlining gloriously grotesque end-of-days scenarios, performed in a warm estuary accent on a dark stage, framed by fiery red neon that could be the corridor to hell. These are brilliant, haunting interjections, so extreme and yet they always feel within reach: property developers create unstoppable winds; people starve as all the food is diverted to television programmes; private patients can buy gas mask in a variety of colours when the apocalypse comes. You are dared to laugh. I was in love with Linda Bassett’s accent in this, because it’s that that really makes it incredible. These are not the regulated RP tones of a newscaster, it makes it feel like you’re hearing these stories down the pub and like they happened down the road, and it’s that (as well as the hints at the implosion of capitalism) that makes it feel so plausible.
Each of the four women gets their own monologue, under a harsh spotlight. Fear, loneliness, aggression and rage all get their moment. It is wondrous, because like the apocalypse scenarios each monologue is baiting you in to laugh at something horrible, but also because each monologue gives women time to talk about issues and feelings women so rarely get to rant about centre stage. There are no ‘women specific’ things here, no mentions of menopause or accidentally getting up the duff and rerouting a whole life to be a mum. This is a play about women, as people, with stuff going on, not a play about “women” as a concept to serve society exploring “women’s issues”.
Over in just 50ish minutes, this play is like a shower after a weekend camping with your parents: refreshing, brief and necessary. There are so many things to dissect and analyse and draw that there has been loads written about what it all *means*, if anything (my personal favourite is Matt Trueman’s conclusion that we’ve all been dicked on by patriarchal capitalism but old ladies are our salvation). I think it means that women are worthy, and worthwhile, and a bit weird, and that they, at whatever age, are worthy of our time. Without them, we’ve fucked it up. What’s incredible is that even amidst ambiguity, no word feels wasted. I don’t remember the last time I really, really just enjoyed something so much that I would treasure it regardless of meaning.
Also, I would say no play has ever had a better closing line.