Can we bear the unbearable? That question is at the heart of Bryony Lavery’s 1998 play, here being revived in the Park Theatre’s studio space, about the decades-long fallout from a child’s disappearance. It’s about grief caught in a moment – in the agonising possibility of hope.
Set in modern-day England, the play follows Nancy, whose daughter Rhona vanishes on her way to visit her grandmother; Ralph, a serial molester and killer of young girls; and Agnetha, an American psychiatrist who crosses the Atlantic to study Ralph as part of her attempt to understand what drives those deemed to be ‘evil’ to commit atrocities.
The three characters spend the play isolated in monologue and stranded on an effectively bare stage, only occasionally intersecting in the prison in which Ralph is incarcerated. They’re trapped in their private worlds of loss and denial. While Agnetha categorises and defines Ralph through cerebral abnormalities, Nancy traces her daughter’s outline in memories and mementos.
Lavery’s writing is vivid and humane, tackling our impulse to understand while acknowledging that moving on takes more than this. Here, each scene is like the brief flaring of an exposed nerve. As Nancy, Sally Grey is defensive and angry, worn down by grief. Meanwhile, Helen Schlesinger’s tautly strung Agnetha struggles with her own tragedy.
While the quiet sadness of Ian Brown’s production occasionally plays in too minor a key, Mark Rose stands out as Ralph, shouting at the world in a way that is self-aggrandising, pathetic and vulnerable, without ever softening the impact of his character’s crimes.
Dates: March 18-April 11, PN March 19