Those that are no longer with us leave so much more behind, as those that remain are bereft, frantic and forever scarred by the hole in their life once filled with laughter, love and light. The lucky ones are those that can grieve. They can mourn the loss yet find closure and acceptance, remember the positive impact that the deceased made in their lives and move on (hopefully) with a greater sense of appreciation and zest for their own existence. But those that go missing, leaving a trail of confusion and unending worry, are the ones that are ultimately the most destructive. If you don’t know whether your loved one is alive or dead, happy or miserable, you inevitably don’t know how to feel and so feel it all at once. The world premiere of Siân Rowland’s Gazing At A Distant Star introduces those that are forced to remain; to try and plug the gaps; to survive and exist without any kind of conclusion.
Gazing At A Distant Star follows three linked individuals whose lives are upturned by hearing about the missing of a loved one. Whilst separate stories, Rowland intrinsically links the three together through mundane, tenuous, yet believable interactions. Arun (Harpal Hayer), despite having the weakest connection to his missing person, provides the central link to both Anna (Serin Ibrahim) and Karen (Victoria Porter) and their respective missing individuals. In many ways a missing person in himself, Arun works in a call centre, desperately trying to save money for university and make an impression on the world – shy and introvert, he turns to friend and co-worker Glen for a drink, a spliff and a sense of escapism. Hayer’s portrayal is initially awkward and clunky, but this ultimately works to his advantage. It emphasises the gloomy, grey nature of Rowland’s script, intentionally bereft of colour, life and vibrancy. James Haddrell’s set and Lizzy Gunby’s lighting of stark black and white supports the dull monotony of the characters’ lives, now void of those that brightened their world.
The womens’ stories are altogether more emotional and relatable to the audience. Whether it be mum Karen (Porter), who tells the story of her “missing” son through a shoebox of keepsakes; or sister Anna (Ibrahim), who visibly watches the spark fade from her sister’s eyes by an emotionally abusive marriage before she disappears without a trace, Rowland writes with pathos and gravitas. Haddrell’s astute direction interweaves the three actors, using Hayer as the supporting characters for the women and further galvanising his position as central to the production. Each character is simultaneously isolated and connected, caught up in their own tale of woe yet swapping positions around the set to further bind the action together. The subsequent breakdown of both the women towards the end of their stories is deftly handled by all involved – Ibrahim in particular cracks and shatters when she describes her heartbreak at her brother-in-law’s lack of concern for his wife’s disappearance. Porter, whilst equally impactful in her delivery, is hampered slightly by the inane plot twist in her son’s story, a point at which Rowland steps over the line into out of the blue and unsubstantiated territory. Whilst being the only point in which the story becomes somewhat unbelievable, it nevertheless feels out of place and dampens Karen’s overall delivery.
As a finalist in the inaugural RED Women’s Theatre Awards (judged in part by Haddrell and which gave life to Greenwich Theatre Studio’s opening production, Under My Thumb), Rowland gives life to her characters through the small details in her writing. In Gazing At A Distant Star the audience can empathise and build rapport with each character through their description of the everyday. Anna (Ibrahim) is training to run 5km whilst snacking on family-sized bars of Galaxy and polishing off the last of the Chardonnay; Karen’s (Porter) proudest achievement growing up was her 500-metre swimming certificate that her mum hung on the wall; Arun (Hayer) is determined to make a call centre phonecall last for longer than 3 seconds before being hung up on. It’s also the little things that are remembered about those they have lost, those that went missing, those that leave a hole trying desperately to be filled.
Director & Designer: James Haddrell
Writer: Siân Rowland
Lighting Design: Lizzy Gunby
Cast: Harpal Hayer; Serin Ibrahim; Victoria Porter
Runs until 29 January 2017 – visit the website to buy tickets