“If I knew…
If I knew that…
It’d be ok.”
Telling the contrasting but complementary stories of two young women who have gone missing – one from t’north, one from the capital – Abigail Hood’s Dangling is a brutal, at times harrowing play to watch. The London-based strand is the stronger. Not-quite-16-year-old Carly’s disappearance has left a huge hole in her parents’ lives and Hood explores the myriad ways this impacts on them with a real questioning intelligence. In a devastating scene, Tracey Wilkinson’s Jane finds herself driven to entertain thoughts of the worst kind about her husband and the fact is that Jasper Jacob’s Greg does have touches of a moral queasiness about him.
He’s paying young women to dress up as his daughter and roleplay conversations with him, and he’s under investigation at the school where he teaches for potentially inappropriate conduct with female pupils. He’s also distraught about his inability to look after his child, haunted by dreams of her in some painfully authentic writing. Wilkinson and Jacob are superb together and those notes of ambiguity from the latter are beautifully effective, especially in his scenes with Hood’s Charlotte – the lookalike – who has her own emotional issues with which to deal.
Over in Oldham, things are considerably more grim as we visit a scenario in which reasons why someone might choose to go missing are explored. Also on the edge of 16, Kate’s experience of family life has been very unsettled and the announcement that her father is getting early release from prison is a shock. It sends her big brother off to a new life in Brighton with promises that he’ll come back for her but even in that short time, horror strikes.
The threads of domestic abuse and mental illness that come through are weighty indeed, perhaps too much so for the limited time here, and scenes of pyschosexual torture are gut-wrenchingly difficult to bear, as they rightly should be (achingly good work from Charlotte Brook as Kate). Dramatically speaking though, they feel harder to justify, not least for their jarring effect. The play is on far surer ground in sketching the quiet devastation of those left waiting, like Philip D McQuillan’s Danny, the brother returned too late, never better than in the subtle sledgehammer of the final scene.
Kevin Tomlinson’s production is strikingly designed – an array of significant objets hang from the ceiling, a sad reminder of all we leave behind – and inventive use of benches in an otherwise bare room is creatively inspiring (even if a couple of the scene changes end up a little too long for the actual scenes they set up). Overall, Hood’s writing is most effective when it steers away from the melodramatic and it is scorchingly powerful when it does.
Detailing the chilling methods of the emotionally abusive worming their way into their victims’ lives, or the haunting sense of guilt that stalks the loved ones of those gone missing, Dangling has an admirable rawness to it and a boldness too, in refusing to sugar-coat its pill of the brutal truth about so many of the 250,000 people who run away and go missing each year in the UK.