Cameron Woodhead reviews Far Away for The Age.
See the review in its orginal context here.
Far Away, by Caryl Churchill, SaySIX theatre and Lil’ Artistes, fortyfivedownstairs, until May 13.
The title of Caryl Churchill’s Far Away is a provocation. Its dystopian nightmare might seem far out – only Churchill could dream up a theatrical world that combines totalitarianism and, ah, millinery – but it is also ‘far in’. However weird it seems on the surface, this is a sinister, disturbing and blackly comic diagnosis of an all too familiar way of living.
It begins with a portrait of innocence made complicit in violence, of a child sullied by dehumanising rhetoric. A young girl is staying at her aunt’s house in the countryside. Joan (Skylah Cox, Savannah Vote) has climbed out her bedroom window after bedtime and glimpsed horrors in the dark; aunt Harper (Caroline Lee) must explain them.
The scene attains a pallid, lunar sense of menace. The illusion of nature consumes the space. Cox’s wide-eyed curiosity and guileless acceptance are slowly eclipsed by Lee’s heavily-lidded eyes, thin smile, and the shadows of lies crossing her face like fast-moving clouds.
Just as you think you know what’s going on, Churchill changes tack. An adult Joan (Suzannah McDonald) is making high-class hats in a factory, while flirting with another milliner (Paul Ashcroft).
Beautiful hats and a tentative romance have the ugliest context, and in the final scene language itself erupts into a state of total war – grotesque poetry that captures the absurdity of humanity turning against itself and the environment that sustains us.
Justin Martin’s direction creates a chilling atmosphere, drawing out effective performances that trace the vanishing possibilities of being human in dark times. Tom Hodgson’s basic but thoughtful choreography gulls the audience into active complicity in murder as entertainment.
Perhaps the most distressing, from an art lover’s perspective, is Churchill’s dire analysis of the way aesthetics can be deployed to make immoral action possible.