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Review Round-Ups

Did critics think that Far Away at the Donmar went the distance?

The Caryl Churchill revival is directed by Lyndsey Turner and stars Jessica Hynes

Aisling Loftus and Simon Manyonda in Far Away
© Johan Persson

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage

★★★★

"In less than an hour, Caryl Churchill's Far Away conjures a devastatingly bleak dystopia. It begins with a sense of foreboding and ends in total dread."

"Churchill's language has a terrible simplicity and an implacable precision; every word, every half sentence paints a picture that would make you laugh if it didn't want to make you cry. Her point about the human destruction of the order of nature, about what happens when people turn a blind eye to man-made disaster, is so prescient and so far-reaching that Far Away, which premiered in 2000, feels less like a fantasy and more like a warning.

"It needs direction of scalpel-like clarity and that's what Lyndsey Turner provides. Lizzie Clachan's design of a red felt box allows for swift scene changes and for a shocking staging of the famous parade."

"Peter Mumford's lighting and Christopher Schutt's sound both add to the horror, while remaining restrained. It is in its suggestiveness that Far Away is so powerful; it doesn't need to make its effects explicit."

"It's a tiny play, but an immense one. Chilling and thought-provoking. The evening may be short, but you couldn't watch anything else. It's already too much."


Jessica Hynes in Far Away
© Johan Persson


Jessie Thompson, Evening Standard

★★★★

"The black humour of Churchill's writing is sometimes missing, but otherwise Turner's production is a strong match for the playwright's wild imagination, with sound from Shutt that makes the walls vibrate, and glorious visuals from Clachlan.

"The famous hat parade scene, in which condemned prisoners wear the outlandish creations, gave me an adrenaline rush trying to take it all in. The joyful designs — ice creams, paint pots, teddy bears — jar with the human despair on show. That's fitting for Churchill's eerie fable, which stuns you with its craft before a more sinister feeling kicks in."


Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★★

"It's a big ask to stage. There's little room for deviation from Churchill's precisely disorientating vision. It has a single audacious, wordless scene that borders on the unstageable. And it's all wrapped up in a box-office-unfriendly 40 minutes. Director Turner has recently turned in huge, maximalist takes on Churchill's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire and Top Girls, at a scale far greater than they were conceived at. Wisely, she does no such thing with Far Away.

"Her intimate Donmar production boasts a bit of celebrity casting (Jessica Hynes, playing it fairly straight as seemingly benign but possibly malign matriarch figure Harper), world-class lighting from Mumford, and a nifty electronic score from Shutt. But otherwise – and with the exception of that single spectacular scene, which gets the Hollywood treatment it deserves, even if it is only about a minute long – it's not so very different from the version I saw staged on a budget of about 50p at the Young Vic in 2014. It's not a play for a director to indulge their ego with. It's a play to witness Churchill at hurricane force, savage, hilarious, totally unlike anyone else."


Abbiegail Mills in Far Away
© Johan Persson


Natasha Tripney, The Stage

★★★★

"Churchill's Far Away is a short play, but it's not a small play: it's global in scope, untethered by time, part fable, part prophecy."

"Churchill's play interlaces the bucolic, the fantastical and the harrowing, pairing characteristic economy with wild, imaginative flourishes. She makes potent use of juxtaposition and omission.

"The cast combine precision of delivery with a natural ease with the material. In the opening scene Hynes achieves a delicate balance between making it appear as if she is protecting the girl while in fact protecting those who committed the appalling acts young Joan has witnessed.

"Clachan's set consists of a reflective, metallic cube that descends from above, flickeringly lit by Peter Mumford.

"Turner, who previously directed Top Girls and Light Shining in Buckinghamshire at the National Theatre, has a tendency to heap too much stuff on to the frame of Churchill's plays, and that's sometimes the case here too, but she also brings out the richness of a play that is dread-filled, disturbing, and, yes, prescient. Far Away, so close."


Miriam Gillinson, The Guardian

★★★

"20 years on from its premiere, Far Away still feels like it was written some time in the future. That's how prescient a playwright Churchill is. In fact, Turner's production tips into the realms of science fiction. A giant marble block encases Clachan's set. It looks like an ancient monument, an art exhibit, or perhaps an alien pod. Every time the block lifts, the play grows darker and more dangerous. The aliens are coming. Or is it the ants? Or maybe the deer? Anything is possible in this foreboding play, which sees the real world slide away from us with frightening ease and pace.

"The production is only 45 minutes long and the words, and silences, could do with more time to land. It's only in the dying moments, when a dazed Joan describes the chaos outside, that the play truly unsettles. Sitting quietly in the shadows, the audience shivers."


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