Dangling – Southwark Playhouse until 26th August
Review by Laura Thomas
Dangling written by Abigail Hood is Directed by Kevin Tomlinson. Two parallel narratives, one in Oldham and one in London. Two very different families, both torn apart by loss, suspicion and betrayal.
In the north, we meet the restless and charismatic Danny (Philip De McQuillan) and his trusty lieutenant Kev (Stephen Boyce), caring for his feisty kid sister Kate (Charlotte Brooke) and their mother Helen (Maggie Saunders); their family menaced by the impending return of his father Ken (Ian Gain).
In the south, middle-aged, middle class Greg (Jasper Jacob) is heartbroken following the disappearance of his teenage daughter, his bizarre behaviour and friendship with a role-playing escort, Charlotte (the author Hood), driving a wedge between him and his wife, Jane (Tracy Wilkinson), as his life disintegrates. Charlotte, in turn, is menaced by her boyfriend/pimp Matt (Christopher Lane).
Director Tomlinson propels the action at a breath-taking pace. Dialogue is sparse (some scenes have no more than half a dozen lines), but effective and evocative. The rhythm never lets up, the 100-minute running time does not drag. Simple props (three benches) are rearranged by the cast themselves, to provide simple but evocative backdrops. Pretty soon you see the bridge, the park, the semi in suburbia, and not the props. Hats off to the designer and writer (a few evocative words) for painting directly onto the imagination.
These families start in a bad place, and then things get worse. Each of the nine characters in this absorbing work have their own story arc, their own frailties and failures. The understated anguish of Greg is beautifully written and played, his wife Jane torn apart by grief and suspicion; the sensitive Danny, playing a losing hand to the best of his ability. The steadfast Kev and the beautiful Kate, both doomed by fate. The bestial Ken is a monster of the modern age, Matt needy, vulnerable and wholly consumed by ego and evil.
Vicious and disturbing
The play is vicious and disturbing, the more so for not being that graphic. Hood has a gift of being able to dramatize ultra-violence taking place just out of view, literally obscene. Imagined images linger in the memory longer and engender lasting anger. And then the play turns a cartwheel and propels you into a darkly hilarious twist that is wholly unexpected as it is inevitable. No spoilers, but hats off to the brilliant Saunders as Helen. We did not see that coming.
Holding the threads together is the damaged heroine, Charlotte, heart as big as an ocean, wise and wonderful and loving and changing all and everyone she touches. May she find happiness in Margate.