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Theatre Review: How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

11 January 22 words: Rebecca Buck
photos: Kathryn Edwards

After a two-year delay due to COVID, Fin Kennedy’s How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found is finally at Lace Market Theatre for a five-day run. Theatre Editor Rebecca Buck headed down there to see if it was worth the wait...

This production of Fin Kennedy’s How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, directed by Matthew Huntbach, was originally scheduled for 2020 but cancelled as the world went into lockdown. Somehow, the global ordeal of lockdown, and isolation, has added another level of meaning that lends even more resonance than it would have had when it was originally due to be staged.

The play tells the story of Charlie, who lives in London and works in marketing, as he navigates life, depression, crime, and death, trying to fake his own disappearance along the way. Chris Sims, as Charlie, is riveting; the cast he leads are all excellent, but it is hard to take your eyes off his performance. Full of cynicism, pain, and increasing intensity as – rather than unravelling – the story he is part of begins to make inevitable sense. A major theme of the play is identity: what makes us who we are, and can we ever leave that behind? After nearly two years of forced isolation, one step removed from our usual lives, it is a question that resonates. Sims brings the audience with him on that journey. The change in him, between the first and second acts, is not only one of costume – it is told in his voice, his stance, every aspect of his performance. You almost have to remind yourself you’re watching the same actor, playing the same character.

This is a performance that disorientates its audience, intentionally. With five actors, three of them playing multiple characters, and a plot that unfolds in snapshots – are they flashbacks, nightmares, sequential events? – it is a jigsaw, and you won’t see the full picture until the very end. The set and costume choices aid this impression: the plastic curtains, filing cabinets, scrubs and hard chairs of a medical environment offer no comfort, but are also oddly specific and irrelevant to the vignettes of home and office with which the play opens. Why are we in this clinical, cold place, with echoes of the Shipping Forecast, and white noise, lighting that strobes and shines from the plastic. And Charlie changes so markedly between the two acts that you can’t help but ask questions about what makes a character – a person – who they are, underneath the clothes, and trappings of life.

A profoundly moving play, which gets to the heart of our anxiety about who we really are, and what matters to us, performed and staged to the highest standards

For a show with heavy and serious themes and which, in its conclusion, is truly moving, the thread of dark comedy also comes through brilliantly. This is testament to the cast and Director of this particular Lace Market performance, since much of this is not in Kennedy’s script. The comedy is a nod to the presence of the absurd even in the darkest moments of life and, in some ways, wrongfoots the audience even more, drawing us into Charlie’s state of mind. Fraser Wanless, Emily Kelsey and Jamie Goodliffe, as the supporting cast, show themselves to be versatile and with perfect comic timing. Particular highlights are Charlie’s encounter with a London Transport worker, and the extended mime of him retaking his driving test, both drawing laughter from the whole audience.

A final shoutout must go to Charlie Osborne, playing Sophie, as an understudy – in a period in which understudies have risen to prominence in theatre nationwide, due to Covid tests and sudden changes of circumstance. She brought a real gravitas and depth of emotion to a role that is integral to the story of the play.

The pandemic has broken our habit of theatre going and, for small theatres like the Lace Market Theatre, survival has looked questionable at times. As live performances resume, How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found seems a highly appropriate choice of production. A profoundly moving play, which gets to the heart of our anxiety about who we really are, and what matters to us, performed and staged to the highest standards. I highly recommend snapping up one of the remaining tickets before Saturday 15 January.

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found is on at Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 15 January. You can find out more and get tickets here

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