Directed by Hannah Silva
Pros: Brilliant and engaging performances and beautiful, if challenging, script.
Cons: Structure was at times too abstract and lacked clarity.
Our Verdict: A brave and forceful examination of mental illness that has its audience sinking into a confusing, troubling dream-like landscape.
The Disappearance of Sadie Jones
’ subject matter of a young woman struggling with her mental illness is a tough one to tackle, so kudos to writer and director Hannah Silva
for attempting to shine a light into its intricacies and characteristics. The performance takes a disturbing concept and presents it to its audience in an equally disturbing manner, showing us glimpses of Sadie’s former life, her tumbling descent into madness and her increasingly problematic relationships with her sister Kim, played by Elizabeth Crarer, and boyfriend Danny, played by Alan Humphreys, both of whom desperately try to pull Sadie back from the brink and ultimately fail.
What is reality, what is imagination? The lines are not just blurry; they are non-existent. For Sadie, the big letters on the car outside, ‘RIP Sadie Jones. We will really miss you’, are real. A trip to a local farmer’s market to buy apples turns into an absurd nightmare – but is it a dream? Lover and sister try to convince Sadie to eat, but all she sees is the two of them creating a morbid, memento mori-like still life. And why does Sadie see letters etched into her own skeleton? Amid such questions, the execution of the piece is as muddled and confusing as Sadie’s own mind. At times, I felt as if I were inescapably caught up in a bewildering and dark landscape. Not an enjoyable experience, which was, no doubt, the point of the nonlinear structure.
The play’s language is complex, and there is a beautiful, lyrical rhythm to it, with echoes of the soundscape of a ticking clock and a rumbling underground train. These, as well as eerie noises escaping the actors, heighten the sense of unease and uncertainty as Sadie becomes increasingly fragile and fearful of her surroundings.
The performances by all three actors are brilliant. Sadie herself, thanks to a brilliant performance by Stephanie Greer, switches effortless between being a cheerful young woman and a confused, convulsing being, a change that is as impressive as it is uncanny and troubling. Greer’s Sadie is wonderfully lovable, which makes her increasing illness harder to bear. Elizabeth Crarer’s Kim Jones is a loving and motherly character, with her strong down-to-earth side best exemplified by her forthright comment to Sadie, “Still nuts, are you?”. Alan Humphrey’s Denny is a concerned, if, at times, irritable man, who tries his best but cannot handle Sadie’s complex sexual and mental demands.
One of the problems with this play is that it forces the audience to guess too much. I don’t think storylines should be overly obvious at all, but I do look for a strong structure upon which to build the rest and I felt that this was missing here. I realise that this is partly the idea; to remove the audience’s sense of control and thereby allow them to experience what it’s like in Sadie’s mind. However some of the more figurative aspects of the play were not symbolic enough to be as forceful as they might otherwise have been. When Sadie, for example, takes off her faded white cotton dress, climbs onto the kitchen counter and starts pulling a long red silk out of the faucet, I decided later that this must be symbolic for her hurting herself in some manner – but the shock value is somewhat lost in the abstract execution of it all.
I very much liked the staging by Fiona Chivers. Neutral building blocks form most of the props, symbolic, maybe, for Kim and Danny’s clear-cut and tidy worlds. These are complemented by piles of brittle bones, discarded toys and red stilettos; reminders of Sadie’s bewildered mind. All in all, the play creates a disturbing journey into the protagonist’s psyche. Mental illness in plays is well-covered territory for us at Everything Theatre, having published an opinion piece
on theatre’s role in educating us further on the subject. This play adds to the collection of writing that attempt to remove its audience from their comfortable mental space and enter an entire new one.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Disappearance of Sadie Jones runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 30th November.
Box Office: 020 7609 1800 or visit: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/344/performances