SAD – ⭐️⭐️- it’s over-stuffed with ideas but it’s certainly never boring

Lucas Hare and Debra Baker, photograph by Dan Tsantilis

SAD

by Victoria Willing

Directed by Marie McCarthy

Omnibus Theatre – until 30 April 2022

https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/sad/

The title of Victoria Willing’d fanciful state-of-the-nation tragicomedy could refer to a number of things: Gloria (Debra Baker) has Seasonal Affective Disorder and has retreated to her loft following the death of her mother, to the bewilderment of her husband Graham (Kevin N Golding), her friend Magda (Isabella Urbanowicz) is desperately lonely and is contemplating moving back to Eastern Europe following a burglary, the world at large is in a hell of a mess….Happy this play and these characters ain’t.

Willing’s script is actually sharply funny at times, finding a sort of gallows humour in the miseries and tediousness of day-to-day life, and it’s certainly never dull. For a ninety minute, interval-free piece, it is however over-stuffed with ideas and suffers from an uncertainty of tone that proves frustrating. Starting out as a black comedy, it then appears to fire off in umpteen different directions -kitchen sink drama, memory play, bedroom farce. melodramatic potboiler, and ultimately a touch of apocalyptic surrealism- but without ever fully committing to any of them.

Ideas are floated then almost immediately abandoned…nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the character of Daniel, the neighbour Gloria has casual sex with: an upwardly mobile housing officer with a predatory streak, strained family relationships and a slightly bizarre fixation on material things, one minute he is propositioning Magda when she goes to see him in connection with moving house following the break-in, and the next he is coldly dismissing her. Later he goes from conciliatory to aggressive with Graham in the blink of an eye. There is no character arc here, just a series of contrasting attitudes that barely make sense when patched together. It says much for the skill of Lucas Hare in the role that he makes this inconsistent character highly watchable, and he fully commits to the bewildering array of moods and tones Willing has laid upon him.

Baker and Golding do strong, if overly shouty, work as the miserable central couple, although their constant slanging matches as the play wears on become increasingly tedious, illuminating little about the characters and their issues, but that is an issue with the writing rather than the actors. Urbanowicz really shines as caustic, watchful Magda, the kind of woman you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of, but a kind and staunch friend with a certain wicked deadpan humour.

Alys Whitehead’s cluttered attic set, complete with sloping roof and skylight is a thing of ramshackle wonder and it’s beautifully lit by Alex Thomas. Marie McCarthy’s direction can’t rein in the contradictions of the text but does a creditable job of making most of the moments work in and of themselves. Ultimately though, this feels less like a coherent play and more a series of thematic non sequiturs. The idea of hibernating away from the horrors of modern living is an interesting, valid one, perhaps more so now than ever, but more clarity of vision, tone and intention would improve this piece immeasurably.

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