Sunday 20th August 2017, at The Lion and Unicorn, London.
At just shy of twenty minutes long, Sophie manages to pack an emotional punch before our nameless protagonist promptly leaves the stage, without return. The piece is written and performed by Julia Pagett in association with mental health charity MIND in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest and is directed by Keir Mills. While the piece would benefit from more variety in terms of movement, as the character mainly paces, it’s definitely a strong performance from Pagett and a powerful piece of theatre that would certainly lend itself to further development and a longer running time. Pagett presents a gripping narrative with this play, offering unblinking realism and a sharp emotional pull to create something well worth seeing.
Alone on stage as a character without a name, talking about her sister, Sophie, Pagett quickly assures us that both her character and her story are worth listening to. Addressing us directly as she delivers her story of sadness and regret, the dishevelled character’s eyes search the dark room, brimming with tears or glinting with bitter-sweet remembrance; her voice wavers and her emotions fluctuate as she re-lives key moments of her story in re-telling it. She attempts to shake off each memory but often finds herself thrown into the next, creating a roughly sketched landscape of her relationships with her family. It’s a piece of theatre which turns up the intensity by degrees using nothing but a strong one woman performance and a few simple props, making it a very impressive performance to watch.
Sophie, or the memory of Sophie, fills our protagonist’s narrative in a way which feels increasingly intrusive – the name Sophie appears so often in the writing that the name lingers in the air, beautifully capturing the intensity of feeling this tortured soul feels towards her sister and recent events. Pagett’s writing flows naturally, creating a conversational tone and making us linger on every word of her character. The language is lyrical at times, and is delivered like spoken word poetry, heightening the impact of our protagonist’s confessions and tales; her delivery is stunted in places as she struggles to put into words what she has and is living through. Perhaps most importantly, Pagett’s writing draws out each small revelation in a way which makes each detail credible and hard-hitting rather than sensational. I remain impressed with the dramatic impact of Pagett’s simple but powerful choice to not to return to the stage for the applause, leaving us abandoned in the wake of her devastation, pondering the story we’d heard.
As a performance designed to raise awareness about mental health issues, Sophie is a play that is not just topical or important; it’s suitably enlightening and disturbing, encouraging us to take a closer look at each other, and take more thought over our words and actions when faced with someone in need of help. It’s an emotive play which doesn’t shy away from disturbing detail, but also doesn’t sensationalise; the narrative seems to seek to shock in order to move and to educate, and it certainly does that.
Sophie plays at The Lion and Unicorn as part of the Camden Fringe until August 27th, and you can get your tickets here.