Thursday, 16 January 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Sarah - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.


“Sarah” is a new play written, produced and directed by Stevie Helps and is best to be described as an experience for the entire audience. “Sarah” highlights many issues that are ongoing in today's societies and addresses them all.

According to Helps, “Sarah is no self-help guide, but highlights the importance of simply talking to, and listening to, one another and those you love, before it’s too late”. I find myself strongly agreeing as “Sarah” thoroughly explores many themes: loneliness, love, betrayal and loss. Even if those themes may not sound too exciting the production didn’t fail to contain lots of laughter in Act 1, before diving in deeper into the serious issues the characters all face in Act 2.

The setting up of the stage was perfect and the actors didn’t fail to use the space wisely, I loved how Helps had most of his characters onstage at the same time and split onto different parts of the stage in order to indicate the past and the present, with young Sarah and her mum, to Older Sarah and Theresa.

“Sarah” primarily focuses on the title character Sarah and her home life with her mother Helen who’s constantly trying to spruce up her daughter’s appearance and personality. Their relationship dynamic certainly sets the start of the comedic tone in the play. Especially Barbara Ashworth’s performance as Helen is particularly noteworthy, she thoroughly invests in this desperate-to-remain-young mum who only appears to care about looks and isn’t afraid to take Sarah down a peg or two. “You look frigid” states Helen to Sarah while fussing over her hair which immediately gains a few laughs from the audience. However, Sarah portrayed by Imogen Butler continues a game of back and forth with comedic dialogue, “Oh don’t worry mum, maybe I’ll wear the dress you bought me for Christmas… Oh wait it was a swimsuit!” this line made me laugh as Butler’s facial expressions were cheeky and carefree which showed Sarah’s playful side quite nicely. Despite the humour between the two, there was still this underlying feeling of awkwardness between the two as Helen would never allow herself to get too close to her daughter both physically and mentally as shown through her constant actions of moving away whenever Sarah would try to get closer or whenever she tried to express her love for her mother, Ashworth as Helen would simply comment “you too” which made me feel for Sarah.

Butler as Sarah showed this moment of hurt quite beautifully as she allowed her eyes to fall and would briefly close herself off physically before painting on a fake smile and standing tall when addressing her mother once more.

Helen’s pushiness towards Sarah gave a clear insight into their strained relationship “Oh well you see I’ve got Roxanne coming over…I can’t have you disturbing us”, I also noticed the desperation Ashworth portrayed in her performance to get rid of her daughter.

The live singer, Kat Rawlings' soothing dulcet tones really created a beautiful atmosphere in the space and each song related very well to each scene that was about to happen. It created an impact amongst the audience particularly myself who was drawn to the lyrics of some of the songs she performed, “show me respect…how does one stay open? Who is open?” it foreshadowed what was perhaps to come in the very next scene.

The introduction of Andy portrayed by Rob Butler stirred up the scene with his boyish charm and in his attempt to flirt with Sarah in the club, Sarah’s sassiness came out in full form as Andy continued to persist with her “No means no…talk to your dicks”. Butler didn’t fail to respond to the comedic pace as he looked out to the audience in faux despair “hashtag mugged off”. Sarah’s boldness in the club was one of the many highlights in this particular scene and I couldn’t stop laughing at one certain well-placed line. The dynamic between both Sarah and Andy was very intriguing and I was very curious about where this relationship would go.

In later scenes of the first Act and especially the second act, a very apparent transition was going on for Andy. It highlighted the start of his possessiveness and almost stalkerish behaviour towards Sarah, as he printed off her Facebook photos and circled all the men in them who happened to have dimples. Despite Sarah’s best efforts to comfort Andy, he only seemed to spiral more out of control throughout the rest of the play.

“Sarah” explores how certain circumstances can bring people together, especially Andy and Sarah. The theme of loneliness which I mentioned surrounds each character differently, For Sarah it’s the lack of closeness to her mother and her desire to be close and loved by someone. For Andy it’s not wanting to be alone and wanting to control each and every situation he is faced with.

The importance of talking to someone and simply listening as Helps referred to is a crucial piece of advice anyone who's going through things that these characters have been through should take.

Despite the slow start to the performance, I think “Sarah” perfectly captured the imperfectness of life and the many trials and tribulations we can experience. Imogen Butler and Barbara Ashworth were two of the best performers of the evening as they were able to bounce off each other so well.

I would strongly recommend “Sarah” as it’s a play that conveys how things can so easily spiral out of control and addresses serious issues that other plays fail to talk about. Overall, it’s a production I would gladly see again!

Reviewer - Rhiann Millington
on - 15/1/20

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