Noel Coward Theatre
Where: West End
25 January 2001 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Caryl Churchill's cryptic, elliptical new play Far Away was originally presented in the close-up setting of the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs, where its oppressive story of a world from which all certainties had been removed was both dense and overpowering.
This vision of humanity - not to mention the collusion of other species - hurtling towards oblivion was nightmarish and chilling. It was given a fantastically bold production by
Stephen Daldry (the Royal Court's former artistic director, in his first return to the theatre since directing the screen hit Billy Elliot). For the climactic middle scene culminating in a fashion parade of bizarre hats by manacled prisoners en route to their deaths, the stage was filled with almost as many performers as there were people in the audience.
As that scene (out of three in total during the 50 minutes that the play runs) suggests, there’s nothing easy or obvious about this experience - not least, even trying to get tickets for it in its original run, which sold out even before the first performance.
Far Awayto a wider audience, the production has now a little incongruously and very expensively transferred to the West End, where top price tickets are going at £27.50, which works out at 55p per minute's theatre. (There are cheaper tickets on sale, too, I hasten to add, with the upper circle going at just £10, which is actually a little cheaper than the Court was).
But it delivers more in 50 minutes than many plays deliver in two and a half hours. What seemed baffling and obscure at the Court has grown in resonance on the larger stage (and thanks to a repeat viewing on my part). As the cats come in on the side of the French (and are accused of killing babies in China), the Canadians, the Venezuelans and the mosquitoes join forces, deer start terrorising shopping malls, mallards commit rape and take sides with the elephants and Koreans, and the weather is reported to be on the side of the Japanese. Yes, this is a strange, troubling and unique work that trades in theatrical images and metaphors. It does something that theatre does achieve but rarely: it takes you to another world. The shocking thing, however, is that it’s very close to our own.
Far Awayis superbly performed by a quartet of terrific actors, Annabelle Seymour Julen, Linda Bassett, Kevin McKidd and Katherine Tozer, joined by an army of extras. Everyone's total commitment has to be matched by the audience, but it repays the effort.
Mark Shenton Related Content
Score Comment Date Caryl Churchill's work of genius is stunning. It shows us a world that is, at first, scarily close to our own. In the larger, dare I say, more commercially driven, Albery, some of the plays passion, and subtlety,is lost to an audience searching to clasify the play to a genre - laughter was heard when the world is at total conflict. This experience is more fulfilling than any other play presently in London that I have seen. It will be a play, such as Gielguid and Olivier's Romeo and Juliet, that will become an important part of theatre in the twentieth century. - USER: Whatsonstage.com 25 Feb 01
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