We’re in Sussex, somewhere on the Downs, in the 1800s. A young woman, Sary, talks of love tragically lost, of unwanted sexual attentions, and of nature, the chalk hills, the earth. And she dreams of the Jack hare. She lives the solitary life, and for this crime is considered too different to be trusted – a witch, even. This is the backdrop to Different Theatre’s Sary, a wonderfully atmospheric piece of Sussex folk storytelling.
A wonderfully atmospheric piece of Sussex folk storytelling
As we enter the theatre, Sary – or rather two Sarys – sit weaving baskets before us. And nothing happens for a couple of minutes. The folky soundtrack washes over us as the women perform ‘women’s work’. This is a production not afraid to take its time in building atmosphere. It turns out that the script, penned by Sam Chittenden, is no less mesmerizing once it begins. It is beautifully turned and effortlessly poetic, evoking the chalky Downs as vividly as a painting. The lighting plot is subtle and effective and the acting is nicely judged throughout, but the star of the show is the direction. The play is staged with clarity and simplicity, never falling into cleverness for the sake of it, but always providing atmosphere and interest.
Taking a cue from Rona Munro’s Fugue, Sary is played by both women simultaneously, one older (Sharon Drain) and one her younger self (the fantastic Rebecca Jones). Effectively this makes Sary a single monologue performed by two actors, and it is executed marvellously. Far from being confusing, it serves the themes of the play very well. Evocations of solitude, ageing, transformation, death and renewal are never far from the surface. There is an obvious rapport between the two performers, the younger and the older Sary. Anyone who has ever looked in the mirror and thought 'who is that old git?' will find plenty to resonate with here.
Sary’s true status is never completely defined. Is she merely a wise woman trying her hand at a bit of clairvoyance and herb lore, or is there something more? Suggestive rather than definitive, the script remains open enough for different readings. Some may find Sary a little slow or short on story but this is more than made up for by the poetry, the atmosphere and the just-rightness of a production in which lighting, music, script and performance alchemically intertwine to become genuine theatre.