Salford Arts Theatre; Wednesday 29th September, 2021
I can feel what you are feeling and you can feel what I am feeling. That’s because I am you – and you are me.
Lines from a soppy love story? Possibly, but in this case it’s a clue, one that could potentially help to unravel the mind-boggling conundrum that is Sandy by Manchester’s Peripeteia Theatre Company.
The opening scenes punch straight into the realms of abstract curio-weirdness, which is basically where this show remains up until the very end. So deep and emphatic is this plunge into the eccentrically hypothetical that some might even say it stays that way beyond the end of the performance?
Did I even go to the theatre tonight, or did I imagine it all?
Sandy (Juliet Daalder) sits with her back to the audience, staring inquisitively at the spot light beam that illuminates the ground in front of her. “It’s round,” she says, “it’s round, it’s oval, and there is a circle of light”.
She’s not wrong, that spotlight beam is all of those things, and a bit more. There’s something alien-like about her, something otherworldly.
The way in which Sandy talks about her strange surroundings in an almost robotic, literal sense is strangely fascinating and alluring. With no set around her and virtually no props, she paints a vividly clear picture of things that define her positioning – yet the audience can’t ever visualise the fullness of this creative landscape.
The big details are all missing, hence the imagination has to run wild and free. But it always falls tantalisingly short of reaching the soothing levels of understanding which the logical mind craves.
Sandy the play treads an unusual path – there is a plot there, but it’ll need to be inferred, and that takes some time and some hard effort. This is because Sandy the character spends the entire hour as some sort of alter ego, some kind of evil twin, an angel on your shoulder, a voice from within. It’s really hard (in a good way) to pinpoint exactly what Sandy is, what role she plays in this show. Does she even need to occupy a conventional role, does it matter?
Sandy is many, many different things. And she can probably be many more things – things that weren’t alluded to in the show.
On stage, the yin to Sandy’s yang is the mysteriously named Her (Hannah Macdonald). Despite the name, this is a far more conventional theatrical entity. Together, the two of them begin to weave a fascinating situational drama that will fully test the brain power of anyone who doesn’t read spoilers before the show.
And it would be a theatrical fiasco if you did read spoilers though, this is a show that needs to be watched and experienced, the full force of it needs to be allowed to strike you down. This review will nobly refrain from giving too much away – which will probably make it read like some bat-shit crazy ramblings, but Sandy was never going to be an easy write-up anyway.
Actually, the concept of it is relatively straightforward – Sandy is the personification of an inanimate object belonging to Her. As such she seems to become an aspect of Her’s personality. But then Sandy is also a woman herself, just as much as Her is.
Questions begin to form, puzzles and riddles suddenly engulf the mind before rapidly being replaced with more. It’s all very well written and directed, even at the end, when you feel you may have worked it out, much of the enigma still remains, there is plenty of scope for alternative explanations.
Performance-wise, Sandy feels like a monologue – which is a crazy thing to say given there are two actresses facing off like a particle / anti-particle pairing about to annihilate each other. But that splitting of Her into two parts makes it feel like a personalised story about one woman, told by two distinct manifestations of her character. So who’s the crazy one?
A whisper of something quite sinister and unpleasant lingers throughout this performance. It’s buried in the plot and it definitely comes through strongly in both acting performances. The terror lies in the dehumanising animation of a person, and the corresponding humanisation of that which is inanimate. Sandy the character (and Sandy the play as a whole) does both of these things; it’s deeply disturbing, it seems to be the theme at the heart of this work and it’s brilliant.
This is A-grade fringe theatre: an incredibly innovative piece of writing and direction which is also fantastically well performed. The net yield is a well-hung brain teaser that cheekily tickles and titillates from the moment it starts and continues pestering long after it’s finished.
As such, it rightfully enters a very unique and sparsely occupied niche of ingenious theatrical creations, this is a new and genuine contender to take on shows like Lands by Antler Theatre which have hitherto reigned undefeated in the forbidden dungeon where theatre likes to hide its darkest and most bewitching secrets.