BWW Review: DANGLING, Southwark Playhouse
There is a profound darkness to Abigail Hood's new play, Dangling, both in look and in content. A bleak depiction of sexual abuse, mental illness and disturbing family secrets, it looks at stories of two girls who go missing, their circumstances and what happens to those left behind.
We begin with a scene where a middle-aged man called Greg and a woman dressed up as a schoolgirl meet. At first, this may be an acting out of the man's kinky fantasies, but it becomes clear that he is simply a desperate father whose daughter Carly has gone missing. The woman dressed as a schoolgirl is Charlotte, whose uncanny likeness to Carly has pushed Greg to pay her to dress like Carly, so he can pretend she is really there.
This is very much a play of two halves. We never meet Carly, the girl at the heart of this story. The focus is on her parents and their bewilderment and grief at her loss. Her disappearance remains a complete mystery and raises questions of how a family can come to terms with something that is impossible to understand.
Kate's story is much clearer; her home life is desperately difficult and when her beloved brother Danny decides to leave to prepare a new life for them both, Kate is exposed to the very worst physical and psychological danger from both her parents. Her motives for leaving could not be more obvious and we are relieved that she does. Carly's story may be baffling, but Kate's is heartbreaking.
Among a strong cast, Christopher Lane is a standout as Charlotte's hideous boyfriend/pimp Matt. He is vicious, unpredictable, angry and controlling. His constant degradation of Charlotte is horribly believable.
Jasper Jacob is very convincing as Greg. There is a desperation that hangs from him and his face is constantly etched with sadness.
Kate is played by a very able Charlotte Brooke. She has just the right swagger for a teenage girl who is trying to find her way in the world under desperate circumstances. Her flashes of vulnerability are beautifully executed. There is also a lovely chemistry between her and brother Danny, played by Philip D McQuilan and Danny's friend Kev, played by Stephan Boyce.
The sparse set is as bleak as the play. Black walls, floor and ceiling reflect shadows of items hanging from the ceiling; a cigarette packet, a picture of Audrey Hepburn, a teddy bear, that makes eerie shadows on the walls, all of which relate to the play in some way. Director Kevin Tomlinson makes clever use of several wooden benches to set up different scenes.
As a piece of new writing, there is much to commend this play, but there needs to be a little more light and shade rather than just pure hopelessness. Scenes between Danny and Kate could be bouncier and are several scenes that need a little more time to be truly convincing. When Charlotte attempts to kill herself, there is not enough build up to the event; the sudden shift from being threatened by an abusive boyfriend to standing on the edge of something needs some elongation to have the required impact.
Hood has created a play where every character is incredibly damaged or flawed. There is a brutality and rawness that is often hard to watch. Charlotte is the only character who receives any kind of redemption at the end of the play, but there is no real resolution, which may be Hood's intention. Danny's statement about Kate that 'I didn't get to save her' is bleak and poignant. It is not just the families, but also the audience who is left dangling.
Photo Credit: Benkin Photography