“Dad died when I was 17”; a simple blunt statement from Hannah Moss. She doesn’t voice this to the audience, she writes it on a whiteboard. She writes everything on the whiteboard; “I’m not speaking, it’s easier.” Perhaps this is so she can erase her feelings as easily as the writing on that small board around her neck. This incredibly moving tale delves into Hannah’s memories of her dad (called Mike) whilst he was alive, into how the family dealt with the discovery and subsequent treatment of his cancer and into how Hannah herself tries to come to terms with his death. Or at least how she runs away from it; away from her mum, her family, herself. The irony of it all is that her dad loved to run, as Hannah so fondly remembers.
Hannah plays herself in all the scenarios and David Ralfe helps tell her story by playing the other characters. The backdrop for this is an ingenious set of black and white props, mainly drawn on cardboard. Emma Tompkins has extended the metaphor of the whiteboard into the entirety of the production to great effect. Hannah dances at her freshers’ ball surrounded by black and white outlines of her fellow freshers whilst drinking black and white cocktails. Hannah’s mum (played by Ralfe) goes to the supermarket and picks black and white foodstuffs off the shelves as she herself tries to cope with the loss of her husband. The look on Ralfe’s face as she grapples with a simple choice such as either picking the large or the small cereal box conveys a deeper emotion than words ever could.
The discussion with the oncologist, doctor and all the junior doctors (represented on stage by little ducks all lined up in a row) is harrowing, humbling and heartbreaking. The family gather round as Dad tries to reason and grapple with more treatment options, whilst Hannah and her family slowly turn round whiteboards that simply say “Oh”. Who knew that two letters could say so much by saying so little? Flash forward to Hannah’s favourite scene. She sits by her dad’s bedside, “I get to say goodbye to him every time.” A simple and yet deeply profound statement summarises the grief she must feel but cannot verbally express.
A picture paints a thousand words, so it stands to reason that the fewer words in a play would imply the better the overall picture. This tale of Hannah’s life (and more importantly the life of her Dad) shows that sometimes words are simply not needed. She can tell her story beautifully just by showing the audience the masterpiece that she has painted.
So It Goes plays at the Underbelly Cowgate (venue 61) until August 30 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Fringe website.