CARYL Churchill – the author of such modern classics as Top Girls (1982) and Cloud 9 (1979) – is one of the most inventive and fascinating dramatists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Artistically, she is a product of the explosion in modernist playwriting that brought us such writers as Gertrude Stein, Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett.

In addition to its pronounced defiance of the laws of dramatic naturalism (such as the linear narrative), her work has always had a strong ­political dimension. Her 2009 piece Seven ­Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza was denounced as “horrifically anti-Israel” by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

However, it was defended as “dense, ­beautiful [and] elusive” by American playwright Tony Kushner and, his compatriot, academic Alisa Solomon (both of whom are Jewish).

In 2022, she was stripped of the European Drama Award (which had been given to her by the Schauspiel Stuttgart in recognition of her life’s work) due to her support for BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel.

It is in these artistic and political contexts that we should consider director Joanna ­Bowman’s new production of Churchill’s short 2016 play Escaped Alone for the Tron theatre company.

The National:

The piece is set among four older women – relative outsider Mrs Jarrett (Blythe Duff), Lena (Anne Kidd), Vi (Irene Macdougall) and Sally (Joanna Tope).

Familiar, perhaps friendly with each other, these characters are sitting together in a ­garden chatting. The prosaic nature of their initial ­conversations is disturbed by a creeping, formal jaggedness.

Over time further complications are ­suggested by Sally’s extreme phobia of cats and Vi’s ­revelation of a life-altering event from her past (which, it transpires, was witnessed by Sally). There is, in these conversations, a subtle ­sabotaging of social conventions that is ­reminiscent of the plays of Harold Pinter.

However, in the other aspect of the piece – a series of monologues delivered by Mrs Jarrett on a raised platform behind the garden – any sense of reassuring domesticity is exploded entirely. Here, in speeches of terrifying descriptiveness and bleak absurdism, we are told of horrendous dystopian catastrophes.

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We hear of huge numbers of people ­being killed or driven to desperate means of survival by an aquatic tsunami or widespread ­chemical poisoning. Yet, these ­monologues have a ­defamiliarising, darkly ­comic dimension.

Far from creating recognisable images of apocalypse, the catalyst in these events is ­often an aspect of the modern economic system or popular culture. Seemingly incompatible or unrelated concepts collide disconcertingly as Duff’s character relates the events with a ­poetic detachedness.

The play shifts constantly beneath our feet, constantly calling into question the supposedly coherent sense that the powerful try to impose on the chaotic world in which we live.

Bowman’s production rises to the challenges of Churchill’s uncertain and disturbing text. It is blessed with four excellent performances, and with a sharp, contrasting set, exceptional video and sound, and memorably innovative lighting.

At the Tron Theatre, Glasgow until March 9; then at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 13-16.