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Review: SARAH, The Coronet Theatre

Review: SARAH, The Coronet Theatre

Oliver Reese, artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble, transforms Scott McClanahan’s novel The Sarah Book into a one-man-show led by Jonathan Slinger.

Review: SARAH, The Coronet Theatre

"There is only one thing I know about life. If you live long enough, you start losing things". When Scott McClanahan's novel The Sarah Book was published in 2017, it was an immediate success. From the New York Times to online blogs, it was hailed as a contemporary American masterpiece. It's the tragic divorce story of a character named after the author, his shortcomings as a husband and father. It's raw, poignant, and heartbreaking in the crude honesty of its descriptions of loss.

Oliver Reese, artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble, translates the tale for the stage transforming it into a one-man-show led by Jonathan Slinger. But do we need another white man's poor-me point of view in 2022? The book has its merits, as does the play, but what is this show trying to say? It's difficult to pinpoint.

The director and adapter is faithful to the original material, almost to a fault, presenting Scott's journey with swooping, delicate prose. The protagonist is irredeemable and, as an alcoholic with anger management issues, we never hear him directly criticise his wife Sarah's decision to leave him. He also never admits that he's, quite simply, not a great person and didn't meet her needs.

Slinger introduces a cynical, rough, jaded man whose curated stream of consciousness bookmarks his relationship. From their first meeting as a ten-year-old buying ice cream from an older Sarah to his drunk-driving exploits, there's a bitter self-awareness in his delivery. His personal slice of American life is conceptually poetic, but doesn't analyse the causes of his troubles nor address any of the ideas it offers.

We should probably feel pity for this fallen man as he talks to his chicken wings in the Walmart car park he temporarily moves into. Or as he berates his kids later on. Or when he finally meets up with her two years after they last spoke, both their new spouses and children in tow, his feelings for her still alive and kicking. But we don't.

Slinger's performance is pitch-perfect when it comes to the tired, embittered temper of a father's alcohol-induced meanness and resentment, but his slow, long West Virginian drawl is inconsistent, faltering and subsiding numerous times through the play. Reese's direction is as natural as a staged monologue with props can be and his toying with the space is ultimately an interesting mirroring of the story, but it can tip into the overdone - like the multiple clothing and unclothing of his actor.

He hides the Coronet's architecture with walls of cloth, creating a large black chamber that goes from a state of mundane tidiness to a disarray of objects and liquids that seep into the flooring - a visual representation of Scott's trajectory. Lighting designer Steffen Heinke's use of lights is the most impressive feature of the show. Spotlights gradually soften and grow in size to slowly illuminate the stage only to close up again in a sharp circle that reduces the attention to Slinger and his self-destruction.

The performer fills the space easily, owning the narrative uncompromisingly as unaware of Scott's fault as the character is. He laments what happens to him without seeking a culprit, but indirectly blames everything but himself. Music (George Rigby) accompanies much of the monologue beckoning, leaning into the natural rhythm of the words as a turbulent motif. All in all, Sarah is the exploration of an average, unapologetic, middle-aged American man in all his mediocre flaws.

People like him will empathise and hail the show as a prophetic piece of art; others will pinpoint the backhanded misogyny and uncritical standpoint. The production lives in a grey area, and perhaps that's the beauty of it.

Sarah runs at The Coronet Theatre until 17 December.

Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton




From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina

... (read more about this author)

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