Far Away is a smart, theatrically daring play that wastes not a single word, in a production that sadly pulls its punches. Caryl Churchill’s Far Away is set in a totalitarian dystopia and presented in four parts.

In the first a young girl Joan (Sophia Irvine, sharing the role with Madeleine Alexander Stedman) seeks reassurance from her aunt Harper (Gillian Jones). Joan has witnessed a violent attack and Harper’s answers veil the family’s sinister political activities in a lullaby of spin-doctored sound bites.

In the second, an adult Joan (Sacha Horler, pictured left) is working as a hat designer alongside possible paramour Todd (Brendan Cowell, right). The hats are presented in a macabre fashion parade in part three, by a chorus of volunteers dressed as prisoners on death row.

In the final section, Joan returns to her aunt’s house amid utter chaos: a world conflict has escalated not just between nations, but the animal kingdom and the elements themselves.

Churchill is an amazing writer, and demonstrates that the best science fiction is actually about right here, right now. A discussion about whether deer are our allies is both hilarious and deeply troubling, as the language of discrimination and prejudice are brought into sharp relief.

The performances are all superb, yet director Benedict Andrews undercuts the terror in the scenes with the adult Joan working in the factory. We know they are under surveillance, yet the couple chat of revolution almost casually.

The Sydney Theatre Company have also felt the need to warn that Far Away is only 50 minutes long, for the benefit of cost-conscious theatregoers who might equate quality with length.

Why would anyone be reluctant to go and see a piece of theatre in 2004 because it’s too short?

Far Away is well worth seeing despite its cold edges and STC should be congratulated for programming it as part of the main season.

Far Away is showing at the Wharf 1 Theatre, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, until 14 November. Phone 9250 1777.

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