A love story divided between London and Cyprus is haunted by ghosts from the past in James Phillips’ new play Hidden in the Sand. A lot of research has gone into the play and it shows: this is simultaneously a celebration of Cyprus and a lament of its troubles following the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Timothy Bird’s simple but effective white set begins as a London flat and becomes the battered war-zone of Cyprus with an ominous and omnipresent white door centre stage holding the play’s awful secret – one that has been hidden by distance and the sands of time but by no means forgotten.
Alexandra (Sally Dexter) is one of the thousands of Cypriots forced to flee her home and her life. She finds herself in London, torn away from her adored husband Nicos and alone but for her estranged sister Eleni (an admirably composed Yolanda Vazquez). Alexandra spends her life yearning for Cyprus and the day she will return, claiming that ‘every true Cypriot has a suitcase packed’, just in case. Dexter does a wonderful job in her portrayal of Alexandra, by turns fragile and fiery. She is covered in plasters and bandages but her greatest injuries are the psychological scars left by her past anguish.
Hidden in the Sand opens with the self-proclaimed ‘worst seduction of human or classical history’ and it is painful but adorable to watch. Alexandra’s new lover is awkward, recently divorced classicist Jonathan, lovingly acted by Scott Handy with a downtrodden posture and mournful eyes. The unlikely couple are brought together to a soundtrack of Neil Diamond vinyl by their mutual loneliness and troubled pasts. Their scenes together are touching but the path of true love never did run smooth.
The return of Alexandra’s brazen war photographer niece Sophia (Daphne Alexander) uncovers hidden dark secrets. While Jonathan leaves for Cyprus to dig for ancient pots, Sophia embarks on a discovery of her own in not so distant history, forcing her mother and aunt to face their difficult history. There is a wonderful plot twist that shows the brilliance and potential of Phillips’ writing. His subtle undercurrent of trauma on an international and personal scale is deeply affecting.
However, there are some underdeveloped parts of the play particularly in the middle sections focused around Sophia’s photography exhibition which, although necessary to the plot, feel like filler before the play’s climax. Daphne Alexander fails to hit the right note with the audience, delivering her lines with too much teenage angst to be taken as seriously as the part demands.
This said, Hidden in the Sand is a stirring emotional exploration of guilt, blame, hope and forgiveness and the difficulties of letting go in order to escape from a life lived in the past. Dexter steals the stage as Alexandra who is given some truly heartbreaking lines. The very raw pain of the subject matter is palpable and handled as delicately as it deserves. Phillips’ interweaving of the classical and modern worlds is pleasing. Well written if not always well performed, I look forward to whatever project Phillips turns his efforts towards next.