Direct from our TV screens in Britain’s most loved show Call The Midwife, Linda Bassett takes to the stage yet again in the UK tour of the critically acclaimed Royal Court production of Escaped Alone.
As three friends and a neighbour bump into each other in the garden, they pour themselves a cup of tea and discuss the apocalypse. On stage we witness four women discuss everything from everyday events to their deepest fears.
Linda Bassett takes on the role of Mrs Jarrett, who isn’t part of the friendship circle but a lady from down the road. In a play that divulges into the many thoughts of these women, who discuss catastrophes over a cup of a tea, Linda explained that her character is open to a lot of interpretation. She said: “She’s the woman down the road, but then she talks about these catastrophes that give her a whole different dimension.”
Bassett says that Escaped Alone, which conjures up apocalyptic horrors one minute and friendly chitchat the next, speaks particularly to a time when people are still “in shock” about world events. “A friend came to see it and said it was a relief to sit in an audience having similar responses. I think it made her feel less lonely with all the things her brain is trying to deal with.”
Despite being only 50 minutes long, the play is brimful of ideas and meaning. At times the dialogue can feel half-finished, with whole conversations alluded to in a single line. Bassett says the key to enjoying it is not to think about it too much.
“If you try and follow it all literally, you get into difficulties. If you sit back and just let it in, you’ll get it. You just have to let it come at you. Its meaning may only hit you the next day,” she said.
It’s fantastic to see a play that features entirely women, and having this focus on their ideas and their views is eye-opening for the theatre industry. Ahead of the play opening in New York, it is embarking on a small UK tour due to it’s huge success in London.
Bassett describes her admiration towards her fellow cast mates, seasoned actresses June Watson, Kika Markham and Deborah Findlay. She describes it as like being part of a music quartet, with each player both “good at their own part, and very admiring of the others”.
And the music isn’t just metaphorical. One scene sees the women launch into a beautiful a capella rendition of Crystals classic “Da Doo Ron Ron”. They tried out several other options in rehearsal before landing on it, and the reason goes back to Fen. “We used to sing it in the minibus as we toured around the country, and Caryl remembered it very clearly.”
Writer Caryl Churchill has really tapped into an important outlook, and explored that through her narrative and dialogue in the play. Churchill famously doesn’t give interviews, so insights from those who work with her are invaluable. What’s she like in the rehearsal room? “She’s so extraordinary, and incredibly generous. She’s all the things you would want her to be – very truthful and real.” One notable theme of the play is technology, which is referenced at regular intervals. “A lot of people assume only people under 25 can talk about technology.” says Associate Director of Escaped Alone, Stella Powell-Jones.
Stella described Bassett’s character, Mrs Jarrett as “particularly intriguing.” She explained: “There’s something about Mrs Jarrett being an outsider that means the other women open up. Her presence in provocative. And she has access to a reality that the others don’t.” This reality is relayed through a series of monologues Bassett delivers between scenes, describing a series of ‘catastrophes’, some familiar and some surreal. This mix of naturalism and absurdism is stark, and yet somehow blends seamlessly. Powell-Jones attributes this to a combination of “brilliant” writing and audience skill.
Opening at the Lowry on the 7th of March and tickets can be found here.