SAD is a new play by Victoria Willing, directed by Marie McCarthy at the Clapham Omnibus.
The writing is beautiful, unpredictable and at times, very funny.
It’s about a woman, Gloria, who is suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. She has retreated to live in her attic and has been living there for some time. Her husband, Graham, brings her food and empties her bucket. We witness her thoughts and feelings as she records a personal memoire of her hermitage. We also see how she behaves when visited by her husband, her best friend Magda, and the next-door neighbour Daniel.
As the play progresses, we become aware that Gloria’s struggle is more complicated than we first appreciate. Yes, she suffers from S.A.D. but she is simultaneously trying to cope with the sudden death of her mother, the absence of her daughter, disillusionment with her job, dissatisfaction with her marriage, and an increasing anxiety that she has wasted her life and that time is running out. It is Seasonally Affective Disorder, compounded by grief, age and existential crisis.
The writing is beautiful, unpredictable and at times, very funny. It is deftly supported by Maria McCarthy’s clever but unobrusive direction. Alys Whitehead’s inspired set construction creates the confines and atmosphere of Gloria's attic retreat – we peer into the attic as if we are peering into Gloria's brain. Dan Light effectively externalises Gloria’s imagination with video projections, and the sound design by Joe Dines is nostaligic – reminding of us Gloria’s youthful past with snatches of Bowie and X-ray Spex.
There is a subplot that happens outside the attic - a story about the son of the neighbour, Daniel (who is a corrupt housing officer) breaking into Magda’s house. I think this was intended to broaden out the perspective of the play and to explore the other characters in more depth, away from the confines of the attic, but I found it more distracting than supporting and I think the play could probably do without it.
The performances are all very good. Kevin N Golding is angry, well-meaning and vulnerable as Graham. Izabella Urbanowicz, as Magda, captures the bewilderment and longing of someone who is trying to carve out an honest life in a corrupt and unfair system. Lucas Hare plays the peculiar and contradictory Daniel with warmth, humour, aggression and an unsettling lasciviousness.
Debra Baker is outstanding. She manages the inner complexity of the struggle that Gloria is experiencing, and this manifests beautifully in bouts of playfulness, anger, regret and affection.
The play really shows us our mental health in all of its depth and with all of its pressures and variables - and while a label such as the S.A.D. acronym might sometimes be a useful and appropriate shorthand to describe a specific kind of depression, the simple word ‘sad’ might also be used as a comprehensive and profound way of summarising our lived experience with depression in all of its complexity.
SAD is on until the end of April and as word gets out, I imagine it will be increasingly difficult to get a ticket.