review of The Disappearance of Sadie Jones by Hannah Silva

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Hannah Silva, The Disappearance of Sadie Jones

Peninsula Arts, Plymouth; Nov 21st 2013


About two thirds of the way through The Disappearance of Sadie Jones the stage is dark and a scatter of Cheerios spreads across the floor. They are in a way neat, an organised scatter, with a density toward the centre, and then thinning out along an axis of throw. Sadie (Stephanie Greer) has dumped them from a large bowl, a bowl she filled with the whole packet earlier. They’re messy, but at this point still seem within the possibility of control. And then they are stepped on, further scattered, crunched and crushed underfoot; they lose the coherence of a comet’s tail and drift out to a disturbed straggle.

This tension between the energetic thrown spread of breakfast cereal, and its disintegration into mess is the balancing act of The Disappearance of Sadie Jones as it edges along a high wire. The play’s success comes from its ability to carry in suspense, in tottering equilibrium, the falling apart of a person’s life/mind/world and the held shape of the story that tells this to us. Sadie Jones might be a squished Cheerio, an insignificant individual element in a cast of thousands, crushed by the juggernaut of unfeeling unknowing life. But we care about Sadie, and there are others who care too, her sister Kim (Elizabeth Crarer) and her boyfriend Danny (Alan Humphreys), and this network of caring may catch Sadie up out of the depth she is plunging toward.

We learn the story here through overhearing and cutting across conversations, exchanges, verbal parries, and laments. There is a story, we sense this, something has happened, something bad, but we never know for certain the shape of that something. Death and pain repeat across generations, mother to daughter, sister to sister, lover to lover. Bodies are marked with grief, to the depth of their bones. Bones that belong not only to a young woman in England, but to others who have died in massacres, in genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda. The dead don’t stay quietly underground, they rise up around Sadie and dance, and if at first she feels she can manage these dancers, they soon get out of control. Sticking up out of the earth bones snag on our daily lives and remind us of mortality, connect us to the past, to those we have lost. Sadie sees those bones as close to her bones, begins to lose the distinction, and is pulled down by them.

The play is hard, is sad, and left me feeling gut-wrenched. I know Sadie is dead, and I have seen her ghost, the ghost that persuades me she is gone and yet still here. I hear Sadie spoken of by Kim and Danny as they work at dealing with the tear she has ripped in their lives. What I know and what I hear is built from writer / director Hannah Silva’s shifting slipping folding and sliding text, a stream and dribble and torrent of words distributed among the three players. The bits of language, words, phonemes, grunts and hisses, bounce and jump like sparks and pebbles between the performers. The spare set includes an hourglass whose softly falling grains set a limit to a life lived in the weave of words, and living on in after words. The speakers cut across each other, a line begun in one conversation is picked up in another, phrases link times and spaces, so that our knowledge of what happened assembles through glimpses and fragments.

The performances are superb, as the three characters spout and shout and whisper and chat Silva’s script. Rhythms vary as staccato gives way to a lyrical drift and the activity verbal and physical is punctuated by gaps, silences, where the weight and pain of what is happening, what has happened sits and waits, sits and is felt. The physical and verbal skills of the performers carry the text and persuade us listeners and watchers that we will know what has gone on, that we can know the story. And yet, in the broken sounds and echoing fragments we come to know that we cannot know what goes on in another mind, in another’s pain, in a life that only glances off ours.