Feedback invited: The Disappearance of Sadie Jones

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Dear people who have come and seen ‘The Disappearance of Sadie Jones’ at the Bike Shed Theatre this week.

We have our last two shows today. We’ve really enjoyed talking to you about the work in the bar afterwards. I was looking back over my original Arts Council application and one of the many things I pledged to do was to make a space on my blog for feedback about the show. So, taking a risk that I’ll get no comments here at all….here is that space.

One of the things we’ve discussed in the bar afterwards is that it’s a play you might want to go away and think about, to sleep on, maybe it’s a tricky one to sum up in a tweet…you don’t have to sum anything up here….questions, thoughts, experience, anything welcome, we’d love to hear from you….comment section on this post is open!

*We have now toured to a few cities and our final night is at the Pleasance in London tonight [30th November] – please feel free to keep adding to the comment thread, thank you!

'The Disappearance of Sadie Jones'

18 thoughts on “Feedback invited: The Disappearance of Sadie Jones

  1. Hannah, I loved it, which I may have already mentioned to you several times yesterday. I’m really hoping you can bring it to Bristol with the support of a good venue. This is what I wrote to David Lockwood late last night, slightly edited so that I don’t swear all over your blog:

    They didn’t drop the apples.
    I went in expecting to be challenged and to come out feeling artistically stretched. Sort of um, this is culturally worthy but not my cup of tea. I had an open mind about it, I really did, but I was expecting it to be difficult. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it. But I did. Not sure if enjoy is the right word – it was beautiful, haunting, revealing as well as challenging. Parts of it were almost unbearable, but in a good way – like the moment where she suddenly screamed unexpectedly, or when all the characters were talking over each other and it felt like too much but in a way that was totally honest to the play.
    I’m stunned by how high the production values were – just how good the actors were, how there wasn’t a casual, off-key moment. No half-assedness. So when they threw the apples to each other, I knew they wouldn’t drop them, I entirely trusted their performances. And they didn’t drop them, until the moment where they were meant to. Which might sound stupid and obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of productions where they probably would have dropped the apples and then have to cover it. But because the play was technically more challenging, it demanded utter commitment from the actors and they gave it. They didn’t drop a single moment.

    I talked to Hannah for an embarrassingly long time afterwards until I started feeling like I was stalking her. I keep writing sentences like “I really loved this play” and then deleting them because it sounds like I’m gushing or kissing ass in some way, but no – I really really loved this play. I would watch it again if it came to Bristol and I never ever watch a play twice because I’m too mean/skint to pay twice. But I think I would see this again, because I think it would resonate differently each time. But the play needs a decent venue, it has such quality and precision and beauty and needs the right environment. There would definitely be an audience for it in Bristol and it would be a pity if it didn’t get shown there.

    Anyway, I loved it and I’m feeling odd tonight, like I’ve left part of me behind in the second row. Or I’ve just broken up with someone or something. Beauty and melancholy. Melancholic, that’s a good word. But everybody involved should be incredibly proud. It’s fantastic to come away feeling thrilled and inspired, and be driven to make sure your own work is better as a result. Good work begets good work, I think, and seeing it reaffirmed for me that I’m not willing to settle for “okay” – it made me hungry to do better.

  2. Hi Katherine,
    Thank you for this!

    On feeling melancholic….the film Melancholia by Lars Von Trier was one of our cinematic reference points for this work, so that seems fitting …and the way you describe feeling is I think what that film does too.

    On not dropping apples….in the market scene Alan never once dropped an apple during our run. That precision came through the process. But in the other apple throwing part, sometimes they did drop it at other moments, but whenever it was dropped, it looked like that was the place they were supposed to drop it. I think that’s to do with the actors being in the moment and having prepared to drop it at any point in that section.

    It’s true that none of the lines/sections can be thrown away or half hearted. The actor play Sadie (Stephanie Greer) says she treats every writer’s words as if they were Shakespeare. That kind of care for the work is beautiful. A lot of naturalistic writing works OK when actors throw away lines/riff on the theme…but this kind of writing really dies with that treatment. In fact I think whatever style of writing it is, it’s important to take care of what’s written (assuming that’s what the writer wants).

    On going in for something culturally worthy….That’s a bit of a worry for me, probably a lot of the audience we get comes to it a bit thinking they might not enjoy it but maybe it’s good for them or something. Thinking it’s not their cup of tea but they will give it a go….(good on them and you for giving it a go in spite of that) There’s an amateur review posted that says ‘this is not a play for everyone’ – but then, no piece of theatre is for everyone. And warning people that it is ‘experimental’ or whatever just puts people off. The last thing we need is to discourage people from going to the theatre. In fact we had audience members who hadn’t been to much theatre before who loved it and came back again with friends…and I’m pretty sure there were a few regular, hip young theatre goers who have seen lots of cutting edge stuff who didn’t like it. It connects or it doesn’t. Perhaps that’s more to do with personality? Might also have something to do with which row you sit in. It’s a piece that works best when you’re close to it.

    Thank you for caring, and lovely to talk to you afterwards. I’m thinking a lot about what you said about the Mark Ravenhill piece….

  3. I really enjoyed seeing the show, I like the fact that as an audience member I had to work. I could find my own meanings for scenes within it and I know other people watching that night will have found other meanings. We all bring different expectations to live theatre so it seems fitting that we all get different experiences from the witnessing. I liked that I could come the week before and hear a talk about the process, that made me feel I had a small insight into the dramaturgy, which only enhanced my viewing of the play. I expect a Q&A would have a similar effect except my insight was prior to my witnessing it rather than asking the questions afterwards. I did have questions afterwards though and it was to do with the back story. I was interested in the mother’s death and whether there were any hereditary links to Sadie’s state of mind. Having written that I have made my own judgement about it and am happy with it being my judgement. If there had been a Q&A that’s maybe what I would have asked.

    1. Thanks Ruth,
      It’s useful to hear that the dramaturgy session informed your viewing…I remember David mentioned that the role of the first dramaturg was partly to talk to audiences about the work. I guess now there’s a notion that the work must speak for itself, and that audiences shouldn’t need to know anything going in….I don’t think they need to….but I did enjoy sharing our working process during that session and the post -show chat .

      We figured out the answers to things like the mother’s absence etc, but I think that if it’s not stated in the play, then …it’s not in the play, it’s up to you. I do know that I don’t like to ‘explain’ mental illness/Sadie’s behaviour…and we always avoided that, but having said so, the actors probably have answers…I’m not sure…

      Thanks again!
      Hannah

  4. I came to see this with no preconceptions – I’d not even read the promotional blurb (such is your reputation, Hannah) – so I had no idea what I was in for. I enjoyed it all the more for that and just went with it. Throughout I was transfixed by the images the dialogue, the choreography… My companions and I all took away different meanings. I’m a cold fish (!), but it was so powerful for one of them he felt very dizzy – he almost had to leave. He was overwhelmed by the intense emotions conveyed and explored. NB He was the one who said it definitely wasn’t about schizophrenia.

    Once I’d read about the piece, after the event, I appreciated what you’d done all the more. Now that I know what you were exploring I want to experience it all over again. Bravo!

  5. Hi Sophia,
    Thanks very much for this!
    I’m glad to hear you all took different meanings from the work, that was my aim! And thank you for taking a chance on the work!
    It feels like once the piece is made, it’s the audience who has the say over what it meant/what it was about. I’ve never said it’s about schizophrenia….but I’ve never said it isn’t either….certainly we had one audience member who had worked with schizophrenic patients and he told me afterwards that he could see where it was going early on and thought ‘we’re in for a ride!’ – it made sense for him through that lens…..when I wrote it, I was more focused on writing from the inside of someone, and about the imagination and emotion, than about mental illness..or eating disorders or anything, I think it’s easier to write that way than to set out to write about an ‘issue’/theme…. I think the piece can be viewed in various ways/different perspectives, whether or not we diagnose Sadie in the process perhaps says something about our own experiences of/relationship with mental illness ….
    Thanks again!
    Hannah

  6. Apologies for delayed comments. Blame tricky work deadline! But I found Sadie Jones to be the most haunting, exhilarating and emotional experience – and that’s just as a spectator. It must have been mind-blowing for the actors! It was beautifully constructed and I loved the way we were so much inside the mind of Sadie herself. There were moments that I didn’t quite grasp but it didn’t matter. To me the questioning felt all a part of watching the performance and exploring it in my head afterwards. After all, people are so complex and I’m sure we spend much of our lives confusing the hell out of each other! It must be impossible to fully understand one another’s innermost processes. It was simply fascinating to be involved in that exploration of Sadie’s without having everything spelt out, thereby giving you the opportunity to form your own interpretations. Extraordinary theatre. I think I said ‘enthralling’ in a tweet. It certainly was, and the performances were all outstanding. Very best wishes for your tour.

    1. Thanks Alexa,
      It’s lovely to hear this. – also particularly great to hear from someone who hasn’t seen my work before/doesn’t know me! Reading this feedback makes me feel that we achieved what we set out to do with the work – of course there will be people who didn’t like it/didn’t connect with it. But there always will be. Like Al said, it did turn out that it isn’t the love it/hate it piece we thought it would be!
      Thanks!
      Hannah

  7. Hi all,

    I played Danny in the piece, and I’d like to first thank you for your considered and kind comments. It’s very interesting to read – I think initially in the process I thought that if we’re doing the piece justice then the audience should be leaving either loving or hating it, but I soon realised (after the first couple of showings) that this was definitely not the case – to me, it now feels like the audience join together to experience the journey together, but they leave with very different and individual opinions and thoughts, regardless of whether they thought it was “good” or not – and I think looking at your comments sums this up, particularly Alexa’s.

    In terms of the words, I’m guilty of paraphrasing lines at times on certain productions, depending on what it is, but there was no way we could do that with Hannah’s script as it was so precise and rhythmical – this was a great learning curve and has helped me realised how important and thoughtful the words that the writer has chosen to use are.

    The piece itself was completely different to the type of work I’ve been involved with in the past, and if I’m honest I’m not sure I was truly comfortable with all the aspects of it until the week of the run, and that’s after 5 weeks rehearsal. Everytime it felt like I knew what was going on and had a firm grip on it, it would squirm out of my hands and get away again. But when it felt that it had settled inside my mind and body, it was such an enjoyable experience to just enjoy being in the moment with Stephanie and Lizzie, confident that the work we had already put in would be there inside us somewhere, informing the decisions we needed to make. I guess this releates to Ruth’s comment about the mother’s death – we made certain decisions about the ‘reality’ of the play to help us know what was going on with the characters, but never wanted to have that imprinted on the audience as we wanted them to make their own minds up.

    Katherine – in regards to the apples, yes the play was technically and emotionally challenging, but I think we all found that once we had got a handle on it we could really start to play with and enjoy the piece, so hopefully that came through and it’s nice to know that the work put in was worth it! :)

    A quick thought on the venue – the Bike Shed was a wonderful place to produce the show as we were able to mould it to our needs, plus it came with its own atmosphere; it’ll be really interesting to see the different feel and responses in different venues on the tour, particularly if it’s a plain ‘black box’ studio.

    Anyway, I’ll stop rambling now – thank you again for your feedback!

    1. Hi Al,
      Thank you for this!
      “Everytime it felt like I knew what was going on and had a firm grip on it, it would squirm out of my hands and get away again” Yes, I know! – me too. “But when it felt that it had settled inside my mind and body, it was such an enjoyable experience to just enjoy being in the moment with Stephanie and Lizzie”
      – It was a very exciting experience to be able to watch your journey with the work and the character….and those brilliant moments when Danny emerged! In many ways I think you had a tough task – Danny is a much simpler/normal character….so to find the subtleties of his character was challenging as it wasn’t there in the text as it is with Sadie…it’s a much more responsive character…
      I totally agree with the love/hate expectations. I’m really happy it turned out that it isn’t a love it or hate it piece…

  8. Hello, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to post a response – I didn’t want to make a rushed comment as all the responses have been so thoughtfully articulated I felt they deserved my full attention – so hopefully this makes sense!

    I played Sadie in the piece and what a gift it has been to do so. I was extremely interested in working with Hannah as I find her writing so different…visceral and disconcertingly truthful at times! This was particularly true of Sadie for me and I felt a great responsibility to portray this character with utter truth and respect – of course that should be true of all roles an actor undertakes but Sadie felt different – so complex. Alexa comments on how the experience must have been for us as the actors and I think at times ‘mind-blowing’ is probably quite accurate! A few people have mentioned back-story and yes we did decide on certain things together and I also made choices about things which I didn’t necessarily share but all these decisions were important only as far as informing our performances and were never intended to be the things that audiences should think. In fact most of what audiences told me they thought had happened to Sadie went on to be much more interesting than what I had come up with! I must thank the Bike Shed for nurturing an atmosphere that promotes audience feedback as it is both interesting and helpful when developing work and I’m sure will have informed changes for the tour.

    I completely agree with Katherine’s thoughts on ‘settling for okay isn’t good enough’ and I feel so lucky to be working with a team who share that ethos – and that is true from all aspects of the production staff. I think it is particularly important with this work as it has been difficult and challenging and Hannah’s writing wouldn’t have been realised as fully as I believe it has had it not been for this group of people.
    Much love, see you all in Autumn! x

  9. I left the theatre with a soft pressure of pain in my chest. I was expecting a lack of “quotidian logic”, as the piece was described as sort of surreal. But the surreal aspect, to me, played mainly with emotions – and sad ones; hence the difficulty to “understand it” with logic when seen for first time.
    I think “The Disappearance of Sadie Jones” is a story that takes you witness someone else’s personal universe; and that can easily shake our comfortability. But I think that’s essential in art to become a real contribution – as moving the ground is needed for planting new seeds.
    I felt later that my sadness came from watching Sadie’s continuous emotional openness. She never hides or suppress what she feels. She doesn’t “self-control”. She’s childish and egocentric, fragile and upfront, but always seeking love, comprehension. I could see bits of many people’s childhood; social prejudgements; people’s emotional needs amplified. And the pain of finding a world that doesn’t attend any of that..
    Maybe intuitively understanding this is what made me love her attitude at the very last end.
    The performance of Elizabeth Green was extraordinary. I saw no flaws(!) She incarnated the character. It was so refreshing to see an actress working on that level.
    David also incarnated passionately his character – but perhaps his was not so “out of the ordinary” as Sadie, which made him less interestingly controversial to me.
    I enjoyed how food was surrounding the emotional curves of the story. And Sadie’s physical appearance was perfect – she looked really ethereal.
    One thing that captivated me from the three performers was their eyes. They were somewhere else; with a glassy, deep shine, they showed they were THERE..with their characters, inside their story. And for that to happen, a good and strong hearted director must have taken them there :) Well done Hannah and everybody.

  10. Hey Adriana,
    – Yes, Alan Humphreys [Danny] and Elizabeth Crarer [Kim] (Sadie was played by Stephanie Greer)
    – Don’t worry, I always get names wrong on this blog!!

    Thank you so much for this response, a lovely surprise to find it some time after the event while on tour with something else…It’s very rewarding to hear how the work affected you. Yes, I think it is a piece that can be understood emotionally if not logically…

    I love what you say about seeing their presence in their eyes. I know exactly what you’re referring to. I think it’s beautiful when the work takes on a life of its own and is carried [in a kind of cradle-like way] by the performers…it passes from me to them and finds its own life in the space between performers and audience…takes very special performers to really make that happen…

    “moving the ground is needed for planting new seeds.”

    Yes!
    X

  11. The morning after seeing ‘The Disappearance of Sadie Jones’ at the Queen’s,and thanks, Hannah, for the questions that keep revolving in my mind. I loved the spontaneity of it all, the unexpectedness, the moments of utter blindness butted up against splinters of clarity.The images were so powerful, so iconic. The guttural spasms, the apple juggling, the red blood streaming from the tap (at least that’s how I read it, with menstrual/pain-inviting/coital overtones), and then I wanted to stop trying to understand.
    And that did it for me! Just going with the moment and not hanging on put me back in touch. As you say, the audience help the birth. We can’t help but assimilate Sadie’s disappearance on our own terms.
    There’s something so profound about the present. And this play took me to the child within that is always there crying to be let out: the intensity yet evanescence of emotions, the interplay between the inner world of the imagination and the outer world of actuality. Which is the more real?
    Two statements jump out at me from your blog entries. First, the quote from Stan Gooch that ‘The only proof of the inexplicable is personal experience’. So many aspects of life are beyond reason. But so many experiences that transcend normality are the ones that frame the meanings of our existence.
    The second is your comment; ‘I hate the finality’. You said it in the context of a published poem but it has such a panoramic resonance. It reminds me of a phrase I came across whose source I’ve forgotten but the gist of which is that we make up our life as we go along. Or should. The implication is that we are always a work in progress. The labels and identities we attach to ourselves can be real impediments in that respect. Perhaps we all ought to
    perform a disappearing act on a regular basis!
    Very best with the rest of the tour. Your explorations of the dystopic self deserve much wider exposure. We came out to a blast of sound from a nearby pub. Who is listening? I thought.

    Laurence Shelley

  12. Dear Laurence
    Thank you so much for posting your response here, for sharing your experience of watching…the experience of making meaning and then disappearing…Touring is hard, finding the work again in a space it wasn’t designed for, time pressures and problems out of our control etc etc…discovering your post here is one of those things that makes it all worth it, thank you,
    Hannah

  13. I was at your final London performance, and I posted this on the event site last night, but I’ll also post it here. I’ll write much more later, as I process the work. Here’s my initial, immediate response:

    Just got home from the performance tonight. Wow. An extraordinarily powerful work. I had a party I was supposed to be at afterwards, but I cancelled, as I wanted to spend time with my reflections on the play.

    At one level, it felt like a theatrical version of R. D. Laing. On so many other levels, it was so very much more.

    Like all good art, I felt the play extended my emotional and imaginal experience. Additionally, it also groped towards new forms of expression and representation of those new imaginings and experiences. As well as giving form, voice and structure to previously inchoate experiences and sensations of my own.

    Hannah, as with the other work I’ve seen and read of yours, there seems to be a groping towards what I experience as a genuinely new formal procedure, almost a deconstructive embodied ritual of linguistic, and thereby experiential, transformation. This is what I believe the best art does, and certainly the best theatre. I feel your work is definitely working towards this.

    I have so much more to say, but I’ll stop here for now.

    Congratulations to everyone involved, especially, tonight, the fantastic cast who achieved moments of real theatrical magic. Excellent work!

    Thank you all!

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