In our current theatrical landscape, where three-hour plays are the norm and two-part, seven-hour epics are the height of sophistication, there’s something thrilling, almost transgressive about the sentence “45 minutes, straight through”.
Caryl Churchill’s 2000 play Far Away is a poster-child for short-form story telling, trimming every ounce of fat, wasting not a single word.
It’s a chilling story – ‘horror’ doesn’t feel quite right but it’s not far off – about a shady authoritarian regime, told from the point of view of people who have no idea what’s going on. It takes the form of overlapping vignettes, with minimalist staging filled with visual gags and spectacular reveals.
It opens with a young girl confiding to her aunt that she saw her uncle dragging a woman into the shed. “He was having a party,” explains the aunt. “If it was a party, then why was there so much blood?” asks the child, who clearly knows nothing of parties.
The action then flits to a pair of hatmakers preparing for a ‘parade’, the particulars of which are equal parts horrific and absurd. They dream of ways to make the tiniest of incremental improvements to society – better pay for milliners, for instance – while ignoring atrocities being committed in plain sight.
It finishes with a conversation between two activists struggling to stay abreast of the political situation. “Cats are killing babies in China,” ventures one. “Mallards are on the side of elephants and the Koreans,” says the other.
It’s George Orwell by way of René Magritte, a desperate examination of how misinformation and willful blindness can lead us into the jaws of disaster.