A Language for Neglect

Matthew Cheney, in his blog post “Dystopia on Stage: Caryl Churchill’s Far Away”, writes, “Churchill is a staunchly political writer, a writer who seeks to challenge audiences’ complacencies about the real life of the real world, but flights of imagination give resonance to her unblinking view of reality’s horrors, using the unreal to probe the deep grammar of reality.”

The horrors of reality are just about too much to bear, and that is the reason that plays like Far Away are important. This play is not comfortable to read, but what makes it even more horrifying is that the abstract ideas that are present within the scenes have an all-too resonating sound within the world as it is today. Constantly, people don’t speak for many reasons—it’s too much trouble, they might possibly be implemented, etc. The play shows that a lack of care for others in the world will lead to an apocalyptic world—and it’s unclear how “abstract” that concept is.

Cheney continues his description of the world in Far Away: “It’s a new world order, and though clearly no-one likes it, they accept it as the way things are, the new reality. Everybody wants to be on the right side, that’s what matters most.”

Every scene in this play promotes that idea. The first section shows a little Joan asking questions about her Uncle and the people that she hears at night. At every question, Joan’s aunt finds a way to dispel Joan’s fears:

Joan: I heard a noise.

Harper: An owl?

Joan: A shriek.

Harper: An owl then. There are all sorts of birds here, you might see a golden oriole. People come here specifically to watch birds and we sometimes make tea or coffee or sell bottles of water because there’s no café and people don’t expect that and they get thirsty. You’ll see in the morning what a beautiful place it is.

Joan: It was more like a person screaming.

Harper: It is like a person screaming when you hear an owl. (12)

Harper tries to hide the cruelty that is taking place directly outside. She has decided that in order to stay safe, she will say nothing and try to quiet her niece. She convinces Joan of a completely different reality. “But now you understand, it’s not so bad. You’re part of a big movement now to make things better” (20).

The horror does not stop there—next, we find Joan years later making hats for a “parade”. We learn that the parade is a parade of people who are to be executed. The spectacle of giving them hats to wear is horrific, and also striking. Todd and Joan discuss the corruptness of the administration, but they never once talk about the people condemned to death. Their concerns are only for themselves. “The management’s corrupt—you’ve told me. We’re too low paid—you’ve told me” (27), Joan says. Complaining about wage while people are being killed on a mass scale—there are no words to describe it.

The last section of Far Away is most interesting. In this section, the whole world is at war, from ants to rivers to humans. No one knows who is on which side—the act of “choosing the right side” is done with, now. Since no one has any idea who is on whose side, it will end up being a free-for-all. It is interesting that Joan’s choice of action is to leave. She is doing what she has been taught all this time—leaving the area where she has a chance to do something for the safe refuge of home and obliviousness. “Of course birds saw me, everyone saw me walking along but nobody knew why, I could have been on a mission, everyone’s moving about and no one knows why, and in fact I killed two cats and a child under five so it wasn’t that different from a mission, and I don’t see why I can’t have one day and then go back, I’ll go on to the end after this” (43). How someone can ignore the destruction of the whole world around them is beyond me—it is what has started the whole mess in the first place.

Cheney, Matthew. “Dystopia on Stage: Caryl Churchill’s Far Away.” Tor.com February 2011. Web. 27 February 2012.

Churchill, Caryl. “Far Away.” New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2000. Print.

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