Pictured: Annabelle Dodd & Eleanor de Rohan
sonder, noun: the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own
‘Sonder’ is a new play by Mimi Monteith. She also directs and produces the piece, and as any regular readers of my reviews will know (do people regularly read reviews? Is that a thing?), the words “written and directed by” normally strike fear in my heart. However, I am very happy to report that ‘Sonder’ is both beautifully written and realised.
There is an emotional maturity to this, Monteith’s second play, that really shines through. It is a well balanced, intelligent and resonant piece of theatre that succeeds in being absorbing and dramatic, while retaining a realistic and relatable humanity. This is a character driven piece, that is plotted and paced perfectly. It explores fundamental human themes, but in a way that feels realistic and grounded in the modern. It is all very well to say you believe in a woman’s right to choose in theory, but with this story Monteith puts that open-mindedness into an emotional pressure cooker and explores what would happen.
Margo (Eleanor de Rohan) is pregnant. She has never wanted to have children. Her best friend Olivia (Annabelle Dodd) and her husband James (Charlie Venables) had a baby, but she died. Margo wants to have an abortion. Will Liv and James ever understand? I’m providing a very basic plot summary but there is so much more that is revealed over the course of the play, and I’d hate to spoiler it for people. All 3 performances are strong. Annabelle Dodd brings a wonderful fierce vulnerability to Olivia, as she faces the anniversary of her daughter’s death. Her pain is so vivid, it takes on a life of its own. Eleanor de Rohan has the challenging role of wise-cracking Margo, who has a visceral negative reaction to being pregnant. She succeeds in bringing both the humour and trauma to life. In my experience there is such a strong latent belief in society that women ultimately want to be mothers, making Margo’s pain relatable was going to be a challenge and de Rohan pulls it off beautifully. The emotion she lands in her final scene is so powerful, I think it will stay with me for a long time to come. Meanwhile Venables, as the mild-mannered James, has a real opportunity to come into his own in the final scenes of the play, as his beliefs and feelings do very public war. Do we ever fully understand our beliefs until they are put to the test?
Mimi Monteith is clearly a very talented playwright, and I could see her creating wonderful stories for TV as well as the stage, as there is a naturalistic, warmth to her writing. Things are not black and white, and she is adept at exploring the grey. As a director she has pulled powerful performances from her cast, bringing to life her story with a clear vision. I was fully engaged from start to finish, and given the roller-coaster of emotions Monteith takes us on, I found it disorienting to realise the play was only an hour long (if that).
‘Sonder’ runs at the Bread and Roses theatre until Saturday 22nd February. I recommend catching it if you can, as it really is an accomplished piece of new writing loaded with brilliant performances.