The first time we meet Scott (Jonathan Slinger), in West Virginia, he’s planning on a night of drinking and driving, in the manner of the secret alcoholic.
With a swagger at the microphone, he starts to weave his story of meeting his wife, Sarah, of his clumsy attempts to get her attention, from poems and makeshift beaches to arguments set just to make a connection.
Slinger brings every character to life: the suspicious cop, Sarah and their two children (their unconditional love of a father in crisis is deeply touching), their elderly ailing dog, and Scott’s mother.
Transient moments show how Scott’s self-pity has destroyed his family life, but though he regrets it, chugging cans of beer has prime importance. He simmers in impotent rage as Sarah moves on without him.
During the performance, the clean lines of the bare stage becomes cluttered with his own accumulated possessions (including childhood toys). It’s a nod to the young Scott and what he might have been.
The music (by Jörg Gollasch) is a supplementary character to the saga of Scott and Sarah, helping to place different locations from a Walmart car park to Lady Godiva’s strip club.
At every point it highlights Scott’s need for human contact, no matter how much he pushes people away. He’s a monster, but Slinger makes him a figure of pity – almost a figure of affability.
It’s an intense portrayal, visceral and vibrant, but there are also flashes of humour. The huge fridge holds clothes and props for costume changes. Objects spark memories, regrets, opportunities.
Adapted and directed by Berliner Ensemble’s Oliver Reese from Scott McClanahan’s novel The Sarah Book, this play runs straight through at 95 minutes, and there is not a moment wasted.
The alcoholic’s descent into physical degradation is not overlooked either, with some unpleasant and uncomfortable moments discussed. It’s a harsh reality, this world depicted in Sarah.
You can watch Sarah at the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill until 17 December – buy your tickets here.
Image credit: Tristram Kenton