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Far Away


 Donmar Warehouse

Far Away

Far Away

 Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed – 14th February 2020



“hits its most climactic point with a whole third of the script still to go”


If you ever did an A-Level in Drama in sixth form or college, chances are you already know Caryl Churchill’s work quite well, and had probably exhaustively analysed every detail of her scripts through waffling and meandering essays. For those for whom Far Away was one of those plays (like myself), actually seeing it performed in the Donmar Warehouse’s new production directed by Lyndsey Turner will no doubt be an exhilarating experience, although the extent to which it stands up to those reams of analysis, especially in our current socio-political climate, is arguable.

Far Away happens in three distinct sections. The first sees a young Joan (Sophie Ally and Abbiegail Mills) disturbing her aunt Harper (Jessica Hynes) late at night, unable to sleep after having seen something shocking and violent outside. The scene carries tension masterfully as Harper tries to weave a false narrative that explains away what Joan saw, only for Joan to drop a series of atom bomb revelations about what she experienced. The second section builds on the deceit of the first by portraying Joan now as a young adult (Aisling Loftus), starting a new job designing hats for a forthcoming parade alongside seasoned hat-maker Todd (Simon Manyonda). Todd slowly starts to disrupt the worldview that Harper’s lies had entrenched in Joan, as the true nature of the hat parade is unveiled in the most breathtaking moment of whole play. Which, if you’re keeping count, is an issue because Far Away hits its most climactic point with a whole third of the script still to go.

The final section jumps forward in time once more, while also jumping stylistically from straightforward realism to nigh-on absurdism, as the characters explain how enemies in the all-out war that’s erupted have weaponised the likes of mosquitoes and light, but that Latvian dentists can be trusted. Perhaps it’s an exploration of mankind’s tendency towards destruction and violence and how it will eventually embroil everything with it. Perhaps it’s a comment on paranoia and conspiracy theorists. Or perhaps it means nothing at all. It feels so much like stepping into a completely different play rather than a continuation of the one that’s just preceded it that it practically renders the previous two sections irrelevant. The complete abandonment of the momentum that had been built prior also grinds the final scene down to what is essentially a ten page exposition dump – the characters are indiscernible, the inter-relationships are meaningless, and the dialogue is filled with sluggish lists.

Every aspect of Far Away which had previously been stellar falls to the wayside at this point – Lizzie Clachan’s striking and ominous design that reveals more of its world as the script does finds itself with nothing to do; likewise with Peter Mumford’s foreboding lighting. Where Hynes and Manyonda at first carried driving undertones of dark, shady deeds being done just out of sight juxtaposing with Loftus’ innocence, the play’s conclusion leaves them directionless as Turner can’t successfully find the connective sinew between the final scene and the first two. The result is a deeply anticlimactic play, that offers as much dystopian insight as the likes of The Hunger Games – that’s not a knock against The Hunger Games, but without its thrills and action, Far Away delivers pretty much the same experience as just turning on the news.


Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Johan Persson


Far Away

 Donmar Warehouse until 28th March


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Appropriate | ★★★★ | August 2019
[Blank] | ★★★★ | October 2019
Teenage Dick | ★★★★ | December 2019


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Nightfall – 3 Stars



Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 9th May 2018


“injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect”


Barney Norris writes in his programme notes for “Nightfall” that he tries to give voice to people who ‘steer by different stars’. It is clear that he has a passion for the characters he writes about, and he invites us to treat their lives as the ‘centre of the world for the duration of an evening’. With his track record to date this seems a reasonable request. However, while displaying his hallmark themes of love, loss and grief in the familiar territory of rural England, his latest offering falls short of its promise.

We are in an English backwater farm’s ramshackle garden that is dominated by an oil pipeline. Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) who is desperately trying to keep the farm alive after the death of his father the previous year, is illegally siphoning off the oil with the help of his jail-bird friend Pete (Ukweli Roach). The two represent the fight against capitalism, and their onstage chemistry does make their back story credible. The female counterparts are on shakier ground. Claire Skinner, miscast as the grief-torn widow, does her best to convey the protective mother, but battles with a text that refuses to instil empathy into her character. We fail to feel any sense of sadness as she ultimately drives Lou, her daughter, away. Despite this, Ophelia Lovibond skilfully encapsulates the dichotomy of a daughter torn between the desire to escape her derelict life and the loyalty to the mother she will leave behind. Lovibond has the best monologues even though she often seems to be quoting from the lyrics of Talking Head’s ‘Once In A Lifetime’.

The symbolism is all there, and Norris’ message is clear, but it lacks the electrifying vibrancy of, say, Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ or the poignancy of Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’. Norris skims the surface of his themes, but it is merely a scratch which doesn’t let you fully see beneath, leaving you uncertain as to whether the waters are deep or merely cloudy.

The mood changes significantly for the second act. Where the cast seemed awkward with the script in the first half, they now embrace the deliberate awkwardness of the dialogue. Exposition gives way to a more human story, and the confusion wrought by the conflicting emotions becomes clearer. But we are still left wanting more vitriol, as the subject matter requires it. Director Laurie Sansom’s production is injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect.

One hopes this is a dent in the hitherto early promise of the Bridge Theatre’s programming. It does seem an odd choice for the scale of the Bridge Theatre, although Rae Smith’s fabulous set does fill the space – occupying the parts of the auditorium that the actors’ voices fail to reach at times. Likewise, the thrust of the play stalls before it reaches the circle.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan 



Bridge Theatre until 26th May


Previously reviewed at this venue
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018


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