Scott (Jonathan Slinger) is driving, drunk, on the road to self-destruction. His life has fallen apart – no, that is not quite right: he has taken his life apart and now he is divorced and miserable and drunk, hoping that the cop car he has just passed won’t turn on its lights to pull him over. Oh, and he has also just remembered he has his two young children in the backseat of the vehicle.
Sarah is a one-person show, with Scott telling of the destructive relationship he had with his now ex-wife Sarah. It is interesting, and it is sad that this is so noteworthy; that Scott doesn’t ever suggest or even hint that Sarah might have been in any way at fault. There is no blame assigned to her from him. He’s accepting that he – and not just his drinking – is the problem. Well, that is accepting without ever actually admitting it.
As we start, Scott is neatly dressed in a suit and bow tie on a blank stage, with microphone stand and single spotlight on him, almost as if to begin a standup routine. The set slowly builds as the light expands to show a large fridge at the back, and a bar stool by an American flag, a carpet which will be laid and boxes of Scott’s possessions. The neat and tidy stage and Scott’s orderly dress become a mess as we go along, with Scott changing into various outfits (kept in the fridge for some reason) and boxes of his stuff literally kicked and spread around the space: a physical manifestation of the mess that he is in. Music, by Jörg Gollasch, comes through, setting scenes and locations.
Does Scott ever approach self-realisation? He seems on the brink perhaps once or twice and at least implicitly acknowledges the drinking is not good. But this is not a story where Scott is going to come to gain awareness, change his ways and happily move on, with his life redeemed. No, this is the grim and shabby story of a man in a downward spiral, who openly tells us that he is a horrible person and taunts us that we, too, are horrible people.
Slinger gives a committed, intense performance and manages, at times, to make us feel empathy for Scott. In the hands of a lesser performer this could easily have been lost. It is hard to find the pity; there is not much redeeming about the character. It’s only in the moments when he speaks of his youth and his first meeting with Sarah that we see a chance to connect with the man. This makes it hard going sometimes, watching an irredeemable person shouting about how bad his life is. The comedy seems like an effort to get us, to beseech us, his audience, to be on his side; to understand and perhaps accept his darkness and to hang out at rock bottom.
Sarah feels like misery theatre and is deliberately not comfortable viewing, but Slinger’s immense performance held my attention throughout. Scott is not living the American Dream; he’s found a place at rock bottom. But he’s got his bottle, so that is okay.
Directed and adapted by Oliver Reese
From the novel by Scott McClanahan
Compositions by Jörg Gollasch
Sarah plays at The Coronet Theatre until 17 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.