For parents the worse thing that can happen is to lose a child. No, the very worse thing is to actually lose a child, for them to disappear out of your life, leaving the shocked, bewildered parents dangling and in limbo.
Dangling is a provocative, unsettling and thought-provoking play, which has just opened on Southwark Playhouse’s Little stage and it leaves a lasting impression.
More than 140,000 children go missing in the UK each year. Isn’t that shocking? Each year. Where do they go? Are they dead or alive? Are they safe or suffering? And what about the families they leave behind?
At its heart Dangling is about two missing teenage girls – Carly and Kate. We never get the meet the former but her story haunts the narrative.
Kate (Charlotte Brooke) runs away from home after being raped by her father who has just been released from prison. Her ordeal at the hands of a monster is harrowing to watch.
It would be easy to dismiss Hood’s characters as stereotypes but the sad fact is that they all come from real life, from the underbelly of society where sexual abuse and domestic violence are played out away from the public eye.
Dangling opens with middle-aged Londoner, Greg, sitting with Charlotte, a prostitute dressed as a schoolgirl.
Their conversation is uncomfortable to listen to.
“You are really quite perfect,” he says, his eyes scanning her up and down, taking in everything.
“So what do you want me to do?” She asks. “We have to keep it accurate or it won’t work”, he replies.
No, he’s not a paedophile but a father, wracked with pain and desperate to cling to memories, of his 15-yearold daughter, Carly, who vanished three months earlier.
Parents will empathise with Greg’s torture. He’s unable to move on with his life or to accept his loss. He is paying for Charlotte to dress as Carly and act out the daily, repetitious, intimate rituals between father and daughter.
Although this is very much an ensemble piece, which includes playwright Abigail Hood as Charlotte, it is Jasper Jacob’s outstanding and compelling performance as Greg that leaves a lasting impression.
The bond between dads and their girls is strong and Greg is so distraught and disbelieving that Carly may be gone forever that he contemplates suicide.
His search for answers, and his missing daughter, becomes all consuming and eventually results in the collapse of his ordinary, suburban life.
For the audience, and Carly’s parents, we never find out why she left home, or whether it was voluntary. For all anyone knows she may be dead or detained against her will.
A million-and-one nightmare scenarios must be going through Greg’s head and the pain is clearly etched on Jacob’s face.
Elsewhere we follow Kate and her older brother Danny who live in Oldham with their puddled mother. Danny flees south on hearing that their dad (a nauseating but powerful turn by Ian Gain as Ken) is coming home while promising to send for his sister when he can.
Another victim in this tragic tale is Charlotte whose violent, sadistic boyfriend, Matt (Christopher Lane chilling as another beast), gets off listening to the details of the men she is forced to go with.
In a moment of jaw-dropping brutality he produces a craft knife to mutilate his terrified girlfriend.
Abigail Hood has created a grim, gritty and bleak drama that is deeply moving and profoundly disturbing but, nonetheless, addresses a subject that needs to be publicised and tackled.
If you’re a parent like me, you may want to hurry home after a performance and give your kids a big hug. We hope to do everything we can in life to raise them safely. Sadly, sometimes it’s not enough.
Dangling runs at Southwark Playhouse until August 26.
Dangling is harrowing & deeply disturbing with an outstanding turn by Jasper Jacob as a father distraught at his daughter’s disappearance.