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Far Away review – Jessica Hynes brings humour to foreboding play | Stage

Twenty years on from its premiere, Far Away still feels like it was written some time in the future. That’s how prescient a playwright Caryl Churchill is. In fact, Lyndsey Turner’s production tips into the realms of science fiction. A giant marble block encases Lizzie Clachan’s set. It looks like an ancient monument, an art exhibit, or perhaps an alien pod. Every time the block lifts, the play grows darker and more dangerous. The aliens are coming. Or is it the ants? Or maybe the deers? Anything is possible in this foreboding play, which sees the real world slide away from us with frightening ease and pace.

Churchill’s opening scene is often described as a masterclass in theatrical tension but, with Jessica Hynes at the helm, it’s actually quite funny. A young girl (Sophia Ally), in a white nightie with dirty feet peeking out beneath, runs to her aunt (Hynes) in the middle of the night. This girl, Joan, is frightened. As their conversation unfolds with exquisite precision, the aunt deflects her niece’s fears. Hynes plays the scene very cleverly, leaving just enough space for thought before every reply. Her excuses grow increasingly ridiculous – yet the girl is comforted, the audience laugh and the real danger is obscured for another day.

Aisling Loftus (as Joan) and Simon Manyonda (as Todd) in Far Away.

It’s all about the hats … Aisling Loftus (as Joan) and Simon Manyonda (as Todd) in Far Away. Photograph: Johan Persson

With each new scene, it’s the ease with which the audience is distracted that comes across most strongly. In the second of three short scenes, a grown up Joan (Aisling Loftus, watchful) works alongside Todd (Simon Manyonda, wired) at a hat factory. There’s hushed talk of trials and dead bodies. But it’s the hats, which grow increasingly outlandish with every blackout, that we’re really watching. Even when a wall of hat-wearing prisoners is revealed, all of them terrified, it’s nothing more than a spectacle. The horror is too much to take in.

The production is only 45 minutes long and the words, and silences, could do with more time to land. It’s only in the dying moments, when a dazed Joan describes the chaos outside, that the play truly unsettles. Sitting quietly in the shadows, the audience shivers.

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