From 09 August 2017 to 26 August 2017
Review by John Johnson
In Dangling, Abigail Hood was inspired by a note in a newspaper: "Stephen, we love you, we miss you. We hope you found what you were looking for." The resulting new play is a mixture of dysfunction, painful searching and surprisingly humorous lines even in the darkest of moments.
This is brave and courageous writing by Hood who tackles sexual and domestic abuse, issues of mental health and missing teenagers with truth and an avoidance of cliché. The dialogue is sharp and witty and never feels forced or corny on the lips. There is an improvisational sense at times, with Hood's experience with Director Kevin Tomlinson and Improv Company Kepow showing throughout.
This works well, keeping scenes fresh and the interactions between characters overlapping in a naturalistic fashion. The comedic moments were certainly needed in adding some light to the shade in the rest of the performance.
The episodic structure of the piece would make this work as a TV drama, with the short, various scene changes not always allowing for the full development of characters and relationships in this current theatrical form. That's not to say that the piece lacks tension or warmth in equal measures, it is more that the alternation between scenes seemed to increase in the latter stages and the set changes were perhaps not as instantaneous as a filmic crossfade would allow.
Though this is a strong cast, directed with subtlety by Kevin Tomlinson, and the parallel stories work equally well in engaging the audience, it is Hood’s own Charlotte and the brilliant Jasper Jacob as Greg and their unlikely friendship that works so well. Greg struggles to cope with the loss (whether temporary or permanent) of his teenage daughter whom Charlotte resembles in an uncanny way, whereas Greg steps in to play the father figure that Charlotte has missed since losing her own dad.
Something just works with this relationship—both characters are likable and struggling and searching through difficult times. These scenes were intriguing and the relationship between the two developed beautifully as they dangled their legs over the side of a London bridge. Certainly with Greg and Charlotte, Hood has managed to create characters that the audience cared about and I personally would have liked to have seen this strand of the play explored further.
There are certainly elements of the play that are left open for interpretation. Philip D McQuillan’s Danny was an intriguing character and his own disappearance to Brighton left questions hanging in the air; perhaps this was Hood’s aim. McQuillan’s performance was committed and heartfelt and perhaps deserved more stage time than was allotted to him in this version of the story.
This is without doubt a play that should be seen and supported—it is always encouraging to see new writing that isn’t afraid to tackle darker issues and this performance, supporting the charities Missing People and Tender, does this in spades.
Southwark Playhouse offers an intimate and intense space that lends itself well to a play that certainly has legs—the question is where will Dangling travel to next?