When Andrew O'Hagan's social memoir which his new play is adapted from arrived
in 1995, it tapped into a barely explored British malaise that took in
everything from the Bible John murders to the then still fresh killings
by Fred and Rose West. O'Hagan's study remains the most significant
non-fiction book of the last two decades. But how to put it onstage?
The answer in John Tiffany's multi-faceted production, set on a
checkered dance-floor flanked by stacked-up, end-of-the-night chairs,
is to make an impressionistic, sensurround construction that is
hauntingly evocative while remaining faithful to its own source.
Central to this is Joe McFadden's writer figure, who begins by
interviewing grieving parents with an ache where a son or daughter once
lived, but who ends up on an existential quest for himself. The crucial
phrase here is when McFadden's character says “I'm not from anywhere,”
becoming part detective, part lost boy haunted by his own feelings of
displacement, from a dark and seemingly satanic Glasgow, to a new town
full of false promises, to even bigger places where anyone can get lost.
But in an ensemble piece where each of the five other actors puts on
one of the pairs of shoes that are placed around the dancefloor before
they join in a kind of collective purging, The Missing is something
bigger again. As keywords, maps and photofit images are projected onto
a big screen at the back of the stage, a damningly pertinent portrait
emerges of a society so calculatedly splintered that swathes of
'killable' men and and women can slip through the cracks. The
spinetingling massed chorale that ends an already elegiac masterpiece
honours every one of them.
A version of this was published in The Herald, September 19th 2011