Meet Sadie Jones; unpredictable, unreliable, insane, and probably quite a lot like you. Or so I was told by Elizabeth Crarer, who plays the complex character of Kim Jones, Sadie’s sister, in Hannah Silva’s disorientating new play, The Disappearance of Sadie Jones. I went to see this on the 20th November at the Birmingham mac, where it was showing as part of The Capital Theatre Festival, a movement that aims to give up-and-coming playwrights the opportunity to showcase their newest work.
The play tells the story of teenager Sadie Jones, her struggle with mental illness, and the impact this has on her family and friends. A form of ‘experience theatre’, the aim of the play was not necessarily to create a piece of entertaining narrative, but to present to the audience a challenging and thought-provoking piece of theatre. Silva beautifully combines the medium of flashing lights and sounds (namely, the motif throughout the play of a ticking clock, linking with an hourglass on the stage, one of the only props on a very minimalistic set) to create a disorientating and chaotic atmosphere. The format of the play is very intense; only containing three characters that remain in full view of the audience for the full hour-and-a-half provides a clever and acute insight into the mind of one person. The writing constantly switches between different perspectives and narratives, too – at one point, Sadie is describing her actions in the third person whilst simultaneously acting them out.
The play has echoes of a fairytale, containing the resurfacing symbols of apples, skulls and clocks; juxtaposing piles of human bone-strewn dirt with a kitchen sink and a box of cheerios (which, in a moment of rage, end up all over the floor). The dialogue is quick-witted and sharp, the actors often finishing each other’s sentences, creating a sense of urgency but also of unity between the three characters.
There is indeed a warm closeness demonstrated between Sadie, Kim and Danny, Sadie’s lover, and the idea of family ties, maternal care, and unconditional love pop up throughout the play. The relationship between Kim Jones and Danny is particularly poignant, beautifully and carefully crafted, creating a beautiful and touching dynamic of close friendship united through difficulty for the backdrop of Sadie’s descent into insanity. The character of Danny (played by Alan Humphreys) seems to act as a voice of reason over Sadie, and, in the apparent absence of any parent-figures, has a paternal-type concern for her and her actions, not just from a lover’s point of view – a touching and well-written aspect of his character.
The issue of mental illness is never explicitly mentioned, and only acknowledged once by Kim, who refers to “the last time the doctor saw Sadie”. However, at no point does Silva attach any sort of stigma to this illness, and even alludes to certain other forms of illness when regarding the seemingly ‘sane’ Kim and Danny – OCD for Danny, alcoholism for Kim – creating a commonality, drawing the characters even closer.
The narrative of the play comes full circle, the end scene seeming visually identical to the opening one – the three actors resume their original positions on stage and the initial dialogue is repeated. However, with our new sense of perspective, what at the start seemed meaningless and confusing, the audience are now able to find enlightening and touching. Perhaps this is what Silva meant when she said, in conversation with me after the play had finished, that she didn’t want to “spoon-feed the audience a story… I wanted their imaginations to work.”
Despite the feelings of confusion, disorientation and, at times, being downright uncomfortable (the ‘sink scene’ springs to mind, where Sadie (played by Stephanie Greer), dressed only in her white, sterilised and institutionalised underwear writhes on all-fours over the kitchen sink, pulling a long red string out of the end of the tap), The Disappearance of Sadie Jones was most definitely an experience, and, against my better judgement, I found a part of Sadie in me.
by Alice Cudmore