Sarah review – pungent story of self-destruction | Theatre

Based on the 2015 semi-autobiographical novel The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan, this is a modern all-American tragedy, spiralling in slow motion as a love story goes wrong. In West Virginia, Scott and Sarah fall for one another. But once Scott turns to alcohol, grows increasingly paranoid and tries to excite his mundane marriage with fights about “nothing and everything”, life in paradise starts to sour.

Jonathan Slinger in Sarah at the Coronet theatre.
Jonathan Slinger in Sarah at the Coronet theatre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Companionless on stage, Jonathan Slinger transforms into Scott and all of the story’s supporting characters slickly. With a pitch-perfect twang, he pungently delivers Scott’s lines. “I was the best drunk driver in the world,” he says, as he shares a story of winding through empty roads intoxicated in his “death car” while his children wail in the back seats. Slinger twitches as he recalls ignoring his family’s tears. Scott knows he can be horrible. But, does that make it all fine?

Adapted and staged by the artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble, Oliver Reese, the drama unfolds on a set that is more functional than expressive. At first the stage is bare; a fridge is used to store costumes, a carpet rolled out to signify a scene change. By the close though, it has morphed into a mess that mirrors the disaster of Scott’s life which is “falling apart” he says, standing within the chaos.

The dialogue sometimes lags. Scott’s efforts to get Sarah’s attention are progressively less surprising; there are poems, pretend suicide attempts, and camping out in a Walmart car park. The music, composed by Jörg Gollasch, gives poise to this tale of an ordinary man’s collapse which is otherwise hackneyed in its execution. Through a subtle country-rock score, we’re taken into the beercan-stuffed apartment Scott shares with fellow middle-aged divorcees, the empty highways, and a loud strip club. Here is a picture of a lonely, pathetic man, just living – and despite his all-round unpleasantness, you can’t help but pity him.