Sadie: Lyric Theatre and BBC’s Lights Up festival, Theatre Review, April 1st, 2021
By Conor O’Neill
A theatre review via mainstream tele? Oh, how times have changed. Writer, David Ireland’s Sadie first viewed last night on BBC 4. Having missed the show I tuned in tonight to see what he and director, Conleth Hill could bring to this mixed-media show. With both being multiple prestigious award winners, expectations run high. Hopefully with good reason.
You’re reading this after the fact, but fear not, Sadie is available on the Beeb’s I-Player for the next 12 months.
1130pm, BBC 2, phone turned off, lights down and away we go. The play is set in the year of Ground Zero, Covid 19, 2020 and Sadie (Abigail McGibbon) is a cleaner with more baggage than is possible to carry. The set is stark, Rothko colours and big bands of stripes sit just out of focus, it’s only on the close-ups the eye sees them fully as set designer, Stuart Marshall intended.
An unmade bed, a Portuguese/Manchester bred toy-boy Joao (Santino Smith) and visits from beyond the grave make for a confusing beginning, but as the script reveals, layer after layer, this piece of work operates on many levels.
This is not a play about the pandemic: a play written and performed during it, of course. The pandemic backdrop is simply a focal point on which return to hideous memories from the past. And Sadie has many.
McGibbon is in almost every scene, and it’s clear she’s a cracking choice for the lead role. Terrified and questioning her sanity, memories hidden deep run the narrative. Uncle Red (Patrick Jenkins), called so due to his communist leanings, and ex hubby Clark (David Pearse) an abusive memory that won’t fade away. Try and think of X-Files crossed with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol chucked into a blender with Sandy Row accents and you’ll be getting closer to the mark. Time and dimensions are changed whenever the plot needs it.
A paragraph up I wrote this is not a pandemic play; yet it is and it isn’t. It could be set during any tumultuous time. One where and when isolation plays tricks on a vulnerable mind, a time when not giving a flying f#&k seems the easiest answer. Ireland’s writing leaves the viewer asking more questions than he, and by proxy, Sadie answers.
Violence is never far from the plot; some parts are tortuous to watch. Yet throughout the one hour and nine minutes running time, there’s a decency, humanity that’s hard to pull away from.
Not quite a constant character but an essential addition to the narrative is Andrea Irvine’s Mairead, a therapist approached by Joao and then left to question every moment of Sadie’s life.
The exchanges between these two characters sparkles in every scene. The goading and taunting by Mairead brings out the best and worst from McGibbon’s Sadie. Truth be told these two could hold down the story on their own – but we’d miss the little dramas from the male antagonists.
Is it a funny play? No, not in the slightest. Is it a well written, beautifully acted, directed and shot piece of theatre brought to our TV screens? Most definitely.
Sadie is on the I-Player for the next 12 months, but why wait so long? It deserves to be watched now.
Available on the BBC’s I-Player.