Review: Sary, Sam Chittenden, Reading Fringe Digital

The Legend of Old Sary Weaver tells the tale of a shapeshifting woman who transforms into a hare. Using this old Sussex folk-tale and the old English poem, The Names of the Hare, as inspiration, award-winning writer, Sam Chittenden, delves into the backstory of this woman who was deemed a witch. Mystical, earthy and transformative, Sary takes us on a journey into the self as part of Reading Fringe Digital.

Chittenden’s script is subtly complex but delivered with simplicity in a black box space with basic wooden props. They tell the story of one woman from two mouths using what is described as a ‘circular narrative.’ Hearing from Old Sary and Young Sary, the piece exists in its own time frame as we reflect on the past but simultaneously move in the present in equal measure. And it all makes sense.

Beginning at the end, as Sary prepares for death, we share the journey and hardships of her life. Throughout the story there’s a strong theme of weaving, whether it’s weaving a basket, weaving out a path in life or even the weaving narratives within the plays structure. It’s a clever but empowering feature that emphasises the many layers to a person whilst indicating the power one has in themselves to carve out their fate or destiny.

Mirren Wilson – A sketch inspired by the piece

Sary is an isolated character who possesses a strong connection to the land around her, since she’s only ever had herself and her surroundings. Tying into the shape-shifting idea, she looks to nature as a guide on how to be, taking inspiration from the fast and free essence of the hare. So, because she was so gutsy and unbound, the locals cried her a witch, which was obviously the only explanation for her strength. (Sigh.)

The piece successfully strikes the balance between large-scale epic and fringe show – it’s deeply intimate but dramatic. The two performers, Sharon Drain and Rebecca Jones, have the most truthful chemistry. With some clever movement and textual features, there’s a really strong sense that these two women are one. There’s a moment where both women turn to face one another, the idea being that Sary is seeing herself on reflection. Not only is it powerful as an image, but it’s a binding moment, acknowledging the past and present self as a complete entity, neither existing without the other.

Rhythmic and fluid, Sary shares the knowledge of instinct and self-empowerment, which doesn’t owe itself to witchcraft. “T’is no sorcery, it’s just what happens when I’m quiet and slow and in my senses.”

Sary is streaming online until August 31st. For more information, see the reading fringe website.