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Sarah by Scott McClanahan at The Coronet Theatre

Oliver Reese’s fascinating new production stages self-destructive masculinity spirally increasingly out of control. In this one-man show, we see a man in a full-blown crisis after going through an inevitable divorce.

Jonathan Slinger (Scott) in Sarah by Scott McClanahan. Adapted and Directed by Oliver Reese at the Coronet Theatre. Crtedit Tristram Kenton.
Jonathan Slinger (Scott) in Sarah by Scott McClanahan. Adapted and Directed by Oliver Reese at the Coronet Theatre. Crtedit Tristram Kenton.

Scott McClanahan (Jonathan Slinger) slips, seamlessly, onto the stage, he stands before a microphone on a fairly empty stage, save a few suggestions of a kitchen. His story is framed as a dysfunctional standup routine, opening with him boasting of his drunk driving rampage, all while the kids sit in the back seats. From here, we see him the day his wife asks for a divorce and then racing into his brutal psychological collapse. It is the ugly cross-section of a middle-American existential crisis of identity. An unremarkable man pushes himself out into the wasteland of untethered masculinity and finds it to be the hell he feared.

Slinger is utterly terrific, a tour de force in the role. The beauty of his characterisation is that despite all the selfish, malicious, destructive behaviour he demonstrates, you cannot help but feel pity for him. Scott tours us through the lives he is destroying, and Slinger’s subtle physicality pours his feelings onto the stage whether his character wants him to or not.

If I had one mild qualm with this play, it would be that it is repetitive in its unrelenting depictions of McClanahan’s lowest moments. And while that may be so, I think this is not entirely accidental. The fake suicides, the stalking and the howling cries for help are, granted, repetitive. And yet at the same time, it feels cogent in the dramaturgical direction of the performance.

The design of the play is fascinating. Music is slipped in when McClanahan has moments of perceived euphoria but eventual despair, subtly cluing the audience into what will come. The set is laden with the signals of a middle American life, with the sagging American flag haunting the back of the stage.

This is not a cheery one, but it leaves me considering the nuances of where the current dismantling of masculinity leaves us. Slinger’s performance alone is exceptional, but Reese’s adaptation and development of this production deserve high praise.

4 stars

Review by Tom Carter

Jonathan Slinger returns to The Coronet to play Scott in an extraordinary one-man performance. Jonathan, who was at The Coronet in 2017 in Trouble In Mind, is one of the leading theatrical actors of his generation, having worked extensively in the West End, RSC, National Theatre and many other theatres across the UK. He is also a well-known face on screen, recently appearing in major roles in Shadow and Bone (Netflix), Alex Rider (Amazon) and The Salisbury Poisonings (BBC). Full biography below.

Sarah is designed by Katja Pech, with lighting by Steffen Heinke, costumes by Elina Schnizler and music by Jörg Gollasch adapted by George Rigby.

A Coronet Theatre Production
The UK premiere of SARAH
Adapted & directed for the stage by Oliver Reese
from the novel THE SARAH BOOK by Scott McClanahan
Starring Jonathan Slinger
18 November – 17 December 2022

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