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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Field Day Theatre and BBC iPlayer  Spring 2021

This strong and affecting drama is about memory and tradition, love and hatred, sex and singing, covid, couples counselling and 1990s American TV. Being set in Belfast, it is also inevitably about Catholics and Protestants.

Playwright David Ireland not only does full justice to all these topics but brings them all under a perceptual umbrella that makes them fit together in a convincing and evocative general insight into life.

Summarising any play to a single statement reduces it, but Sadie is at least in part about how not just ourselves but our perceptions of reality are shaped by our pasts, both personal and cultural.

David Ireland's method is to bring us fully within the consciousness and perceptions of one character and then slowly to separate us so we begin to see that what we took as simple fact might not have been objective reality.

Sadie is a middle-aged working-class Belfast Protestant who we meet meandering aimlessly through her memories, which are literally brought onstage for us to see.

If she mentions someone – her favourite uncle, say, or her ex-husband – he enters from the wings, looking as she remembers him. If she recalls a scene, it is played out before us.

The story Sadie wants to tell is, in her own phrase, a rom-com, about how she recently started a satisfying affair with a younger man. But from the very first moments we might begin to notice that her memories and narrative are not fully under her control.

People walk onstage uninvited or question minor details in her narrative. At one point her toyboy drags her to couples counselling and the therapist is a jargon-spouting cliché we are as quick as Sadie to dismiss, until the playwright guides us to the suspicion that this is how Sadie chooses to see her as a defence against the therapist's insights.

Gradually, through the slow undermining of Sadie's tales of a happy childhood and an ordinary marriage, we discover truths about her life and about the very act of reminiscing we've been part of that are both dark and totally believable. And we see how such distortions were almost inevitable given who, where and when Sadie is.

If there is any criticism to be made of the playwright's vision and methods it is that some of the revelations, however convincing, approach clichés, generating a slight air of anticlimax, and that some, while not telegraphed long in advance, become evident a little ahead of time, reducing the shock effect.

Sensitively directed by Conleth Hill, Abigail McGibbon not only makes Sadie fully rounded and believable, but makes sure she never loses our sympathy even as our perceptions are being separated from her.

Patrick Jenkins (uncle), David Pearse (ex), Santino Smith (lover) and Andrea Irvine (therapist) all skilfully navigate the path of being introduced as Sadie sees them and gradually evolving into their actual characters.

Sophie was scheduled for production by Belfast's Field Day Theatre Company in 2020 but foiled by lockdown. It was recorded for a single showing on BBC4 and is available for a year on iPlayer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Sadie - Field Day Theatre and BBC iPlayer 2021