Developed through residencies at Beaford Arts, Camden People’s Theatre and the Bike Shed Theatre, The Disappearance of Sadie Jones charts the mental landscape of Sadie (Stephanie Greer), a young woman who is haunted by strange thoughts and illusions, and who refuses to eat.
Written and directed by Hannah Silva, there is something inexplicably disquieting about this performance, leaving the audience feeling completely unnerved.
Perhaps it is an interesting play on language; a convulsive, repetitive rearranging of sentences to distort meaning. The boundaries and also the limitlessness of language are revealed in a confounding puzzle of Beckettian madness, as the cast whisper and blurt in a cacophonous chorus, a very realistic portrayal of Sadie’s auditory hallucinations, experienced just as intently by the audience. This expression of mental illness is theatrical, so vivid it borders on being a somewhat Alice In Wonderland transportation to Sadie’s mind, although it is much more solemn, sobering and real.
Perhaps it is Stephanie Greer, and her remarkable capturing of such a dissonant personality. Her lover Danny (Alan Humphreys) and her sister Kim (Elizabeth Crarer) double up as Freudian figures, ‘Danny’ sounding like ‘Daddy’ and Kim filling the gap of her mother. As Danny and Kim conspire in desperation together, Sadie sits under the kitchen counter conspiring with a larger than life bowl of cereal, stuffing handfuls into her mouth angrily, uncontrollably.
Fiona Chivers’s stage design is incredibly effective. Renaissance music accompanies a harvest festival-like banquet which is laid out on a red-clothed table amongst human bones, reminiscent of vanitas in 17th century Dutch still-life paintings, where a skull can be seen placed amongst fruit and flowers as a reminder of life’s transience.
Food in general is used as a brilliant motif throughout the play, paralleling love with hunger. Sadie from the beginning is described as a ‘cold person, like an avocado’. She starves herself of love and food. There is a beautiful scene after Sadie has had a fit in the kitchen (which also doubles up as a grave yard), where she and Danny dance barefoot amongst yoghurt pots on the floor with grains of rice between their toes.
The play is devoid of Sadie’s past. We do not know how long she has not eaten properly for, nor how old she is – she is an erratic character flitting between little girl and someone who has seen more than one should in a lifetime. She wants to be tall and thin, but mainly to just disappear.
Curious theatrical techniques not only include poetry and a shifting narrative but also physical theatre, for example Danny and Kim pushing the limp and fragile Sadie back and forth whilst murmuring insecurities of hers for all the audience to hear.
The Disappearance of Sadie Jones is touring Leeds, Leicester, Birmingham, Plymouth and London until 30th November. Very much recommended for an evening of very memorable experimental theatre and a fascinating portrayal of mental illness.