Review - Dangling at Southwark Playhouse
250,000 people going missing in the UK every year, many of whom are never found. What happens to those left behind in the aftermath of a person disappearing? That’s exactly what Abigail Hood’s play, Dangling, attempts to uncover.
This is a bold new work which sheds light on an area of society that is sometimes marginalised. There’s often posters searching for missing persons dotted around or the occasional appeal on Crimewatch, but it’s very rare to gain an insight into those affected, those who are left ‘dangling’ with no sense of closure after a relative or friend vanishes. It is these people which this show tries to focus on but sadly this becomes lost in a very muddled and confused approach.
The play follows three stories, each involved in some way with a person who has gone missing. There’s the father struggling to cope with his missing teenage daughter, who turns to hiring an escort to try and bring comfort to him. The escort’s relationship with her violent pimp of a boyfriend is the second story – which apart from her contact with the missing girl’s father is quite random. And then there’s also the family affected by sexual abuse within the home. It’s quite unclear why the playwright chose to bring multiple stories to the stage - as they are all affected by the same theme, it feels quite repetitive and monotonous and many scenes become irrelevant or unnecessary as a result.
Rather than focusing on coping in the aftermath of a person going missing, the play draws attention to the relationships created which help them cope. Characters are therefore introduced left, right and centre with no explanation or justification and so this becomes difficult to follow. The dialogue is clunky and the constant swapping of stories disrupts any flow to the work. Roughly a third of the show consists of ‘scene changes’ where the sets, made up purely of wooden benches, are re-arranged to suggest different settings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a simple set but something’s wrong when half the evening is spent trying to figure out what an upside bench represents.
There’s some really heavy subjects explored in this play and neither the playwright or the director shy away from this. There is potential here to create a powerful and meaningful message about the reasons why someone might run away or go missing and how those around them respond to this. However, this play misfires in its attempt to delve into this. The cast do the best with what they can, which unfortunately isn’t much.
It’s a play that can’t make its mind up about what it wants to be. It pays too much attention to its scene changes and introducing characters willy-nilly instead of maintaining a coherent script.