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
Donmar Warehouse until 28th March
Previously reviewed at this venue: