Review: The Missing, Tramway, Glasgow

Theatre
The Missing
Tramway, Glasgow,
until October 1

Reviewed by Mark Brown

In 1976, a three-year-old boy, named Sandy Davidson, went missing from his garden in the Irvine housing estate where Andrew O’Hagan was raised. He remains missing to this day. This terrible event played an important part in O’Hagan coming to write his first, highly acclaimed book The Missing (which was published in 1995) and now this play (which is, in O’Hagan’s words, a “reinvention” of the book).
The drama is built upon the undeniable premise that the very fact of someone going “missing” contains not only a special and seminal anguish for the missing person’s loved ones, but also deep social implications. O’Hagan and director John Tiffany seek to provide “dignity” to the missing, to populate the blank space suggested by the very concept of “missing”. The integrity of that attempt shines through the play’s most emotive moments. Sadly, however, the piece never finds the theatrical tools (if they exist) which are required to sustain the power of the subject.
A somewhat too naive young researcher (a fictionalised O’Hagan, played by Joe McFadden) takes us through the lives of missing people and their families; through post-war Britain; and through the Scottish New Town experiment. The sharp sadness of the stories is placed in uncomfortable tandem with the comedy of (often badly cast) actors (literally) stepping into the shoes of characters whose ages and/or sex is different from their own.
One could – in seeking to explain the production’s frustrating sense of unevenness – point to other aesthetic shortcomings. However, ultimately, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the central problem is one of compression. There are, quite simply, too many subjects, too many times, too many places and too many stories for The Missing (at a mere 90 minutes long) to become a truly coherent piece of theatre.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 18, 2011

© Mark Brown

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