“Plays like this are why theatres were built in the first place.” SORTER by Richard Mylan reviewed

I don’t go to the theatre very often, but after seeing this production I feel I need to seriously buck my ideas up.

Sorter, which is being staged at Swansea Grand Theatre’s Arts Wing, is the colliding story of two heroin addicts, one a dysfunctional young woman with her half-dead eyes always on the next fix, and the other an apparently functioning A&E nurse who’s fallen into the trap of self-medicating.

Richard Mylan, who wrote the play, was himself a functioning heroin addict, keeping his habit hidden just beneath the surface as he pursued a successful acting career. He plays the aforementioned A&E nurse opposite Sophie Melville’s addled user, and the dramatic heft of the play hinges on their raw, primal and excoriating performances.

As ‘functioning’ members of society, we are used to heroin users existing below our eye lines, and so it might have been for these two characters, but thanks to two brilliant narrative arcs they become identifiable, human, and vulnerable. In his case it’s a single, catastrophic lapse in judgement that starts him on the slippery slope to the gutter, and in hers it’s the discovery that she’s pregnant. This revelation sparks something in her, and she starts to envisage a better life, as a loving mother, free of addiction.

These twin narratives unfold against the backdrop of a bus shelter, the only props being the strip lighting that the actors can remove and use to represent all manner of things. Adding weight to the sense of claustrophobia and impending tragedy are the lighting and the background music, both brilliantly effective.

A few months ago we were lucky enough to have Richard join the writing group I’m a member of (Swansea and District Writers’ Circle) as our guest speaker. This was when Sorter was still in production. It was a brilliant evening and we learnt of the story behind the story (Richard’s own addiction) and Richard’s desire to see plays regarding Swansea produced in-house at the Grand Theatre, which led to the formation of the creative collective named Grand Ambition.

Well, it would seem that Richard’s grand ambition (see what I did there?) has paid off, as Sorter has been getting rave reviews everywhere. The Guardian gave it four stars, The Stage also gave it four stars and Buzz gave it five. And as for me, there just aren’t enough stars in the world for this production.

I met Richard after the performance and told him that, after witnessing his play, I felt like I needed a bath. This might have sounded irreverent, but it was meant as a compliment of the highest order. I really did feel like I’d spent the previous hour and ten minutes being dragged through the mire of addiction, experiencing the brutal realities of it via the electrifying performances of the two stars. It thoroughly deserved the standing ovation that it got. If you love theatre, you need to see this play. If theatre is a stranger to you, then you need to see this play and realise what a vital institution it can be. After all, plays like this are why theatres were built in the first place.

Sorter is on at the Grand Theatre Swansea until Friday 10 March.

Published by Richard E. Rock

Cat-loving, headbanging author of the dark and fantastical.

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