Beware The Owl, The Aunt And The Hatter: Far Away At Donmar Warehouse
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Young Joan can't sleep. Was there a bump in the night? Or a scream? She is staying with her Aunt Harper, and she reassures her it's probably an owl. They seem to be in the English countryside. But with her aunt's responses becoming less and less convincing, young Joan knows she has stumbled on something sinister about the world. And not just because aunty isn't a convincing liar or her armchair is filthy. Thus begins the short descent into a dystopia where people are rounded up for inexplicable reasons, and you're never sure who is with you or against you.
It's a short descent as Caryl Churchill's piece runs only about 45 minutes. But in that time it's unsettling enough to leave the audience nervously laughing. In the 20 years since its premiere, the fears of all controlling entities have only grown thanks to a vibrant network of social media, pseudo-news organisations and spin. What may have seemed far away then looks a bit prophetic now.
Comedy comes courtesy of a scene with grown-up Joan (Aisling Loftus) and Todd (Simon Manyonda) making hats for an event. As the days go by, marked by a blackout, they grow increasingly outlandish, until what they will be used for is revealed.
It's evocative with staging by designer Lizzie Clachan. There's a block glistening on stage. Is it the reflections of the night, the back of a lorry or prison wall? Christopher Shutt's sound design underscores the tension of the piece.
A brief encounter about fear and paranoia. It's almost over as quickly as it started. But it makes its mark.
Far Away, Donmar Warehouse, Earlham St, WC2H 9LX. Tickets £10-£40, until 4 April 2020.
Last Updated 14 February 2020