THEATRE INTERVIEW: ‘The Disappearance Of Sadie Jones’, which heads to Pleasance for a five night run this week, tells the story of a young woman battling a desire to disappear from her own life and follows her on a journey into her subconscious. It’s non-linear, combines language play, lyricism, poetic physical performance and distinctive sound design, and that seems like a recipe for something extremely interesting. We spoke to the writer-director behind it, acclaimed poet and playwright Hannah Silva.
TW: Can you tell us about the play, and how it is structured?
HS: I wrote this play from an emotional rather than rational impulse, so initially I didn’t know what it was about, I just knew I was trying to use language as a way of getting inside a person’s psyche, to express emotions and experience in a way that isn’t possible with logical sentences.
I wrote it as a stream-of-consciousness, so this meant it didn’t have scenes or acts, but when dramaturg David Lane and I started to look at the structure, we found that the piece was divided into ‘movements’, and as we explored the text with the actors we discovered the shifts and changes – often these happen when we move from ‘reality’ to the imagination of the main character.
TW: What inspired the play, and what made you use the topic of mental illness?
HS: I didn’t decide to use the topic of mental illness at all, I just wrote from the inside of a character, exploring her experience. I tapped into experiences that I had as a teenager, and in some instances pushed these experiences and emotions further, resulting in a character we could diagnose if wanted to. Some people prefer to see it as a study of the imagination, others will very clearly see it as a portrait of mental illness. An audience member said to me afterwards that we’ve all got a bit of Sadie in us, and I think that might be true.
TW: Apparently, you’ve drawn inspiration from Strindberg’s dream plays for this show – in what way have they influenced your piece?
HS: I was influenced by Strindberg’s ideas about dream plays rather than the plays themselves. He wrote that in a dream play “one consciousness holds sway over them all, that of the dreamer; for her there are no secrets, no incongruities, no scruples, no law”. This sums up the experience of Sadie. I aim for the audience to experience the world as Sadie does.
TW: You are using what’s described as “innovative vocal techniques” – what are these techniques, and how have you used music and sound generally in the show?
HS: I enjoy playing with language and the voice, and at some points during the play, language and sound is used to express Sadie’s experience rather than as dialogue. At these moments words are broken down and the voice is used to show Sadie’s emotional landscape. I made the soundscape for the work and it has various influences. We developed the piece at Camden People’s Theatre, where we could hear trains rumbling… I recorded the sound of the trains and they became part of our soundscape.
TW: As well as writing this, you’ve also directed it. Do you often take this approach (as opposed to passing a script on to a director)? What are the benefits of it?
HS: One of the benefits is that I’ve learned a huge amount about my own writing through the process. Another is I’ve had the brilliant experience of working very closely with the creative team, and choosing the team myself. For me it depends on the particular piece, I’m very happy to hand a script over to a director for some projects, with others, I like to be right in there until the end.
TW: The show has been on tour since early October. Have you made any changes as you’ve gone along?
HS: We always have to adjust a little depending on the space. We’ve been in a deep, wide space (The Lowry Studio) and a tiny pub theatre (Upstairs at the Western) and everything in between. It’s been a great experience, and the show has felt a little different in every space and with each different audience.
TW: Will the play continue on after its London run?
HS: We are going to take it to Avignon in June, and I’m considering getting a couple of other UK dates around that time.
TW: What else are you working on at the moment? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
HS: I have an insanely ambitious project on the cards. It’s called ‘Gagged’ and involves a large cast, a huge space, a big and brilliant creative team and, unfortunately, a big budget. It may take me a while to get all those elements together, but I’m excited about it. ‘Gagged’ asks what would happen if we didn’t have freedom of expression in Britain.
‘The Disappearance Of Sadie Jones’ is on at Pleasance Islington until 30 November. See this page here for info and tickets.
LINKS: www.pleasance.co.uk | hannahsilva.wordpress.com | twitter.com/HannahSilvaUK
Sections: Interviews - Theatre | Tags: Hannah Silva, Pleasance, Pleasance Islington, The Disappearance of Sadie Jones