Review: Sary, Sweet Novotel, Edinburgh Fringe

Sary is a marked part of the British folklore tradition, specifically set in the bleak landscape of rural medieval Sussex. Nestled in the intimate space at the Novotel Hotel, two actresses explore womanhood as a kind of alchemy; transformative, transgressive and entirely human. As we enter the room, we find the two Sarys (Rebecca Jones and Sharon Drain) sitting making baskets and grinding herbs into poultices. It is immediately immersive, even in a curtained meeting room, we are brought back to a time of craft and superstition. 

By nature of the small stage space, movement for Jones and Drain is limited, yet manages to be active and dynamic. This is partly due to the two women seeming to engage in an old-fashioned storytelling tradition. We are as children, gathered round the feet of an orator telling a story, not just hers, but carried down from Sussex folklore. It is unlike anything else you will see at Edinburgh Fringe in that it feels truly as ancient as the Scottish landscape that encapsulates the city. It calls back to something deep within its audience.

The character of Sary is doubled, played as two ages at once. As the younger Sary, Jones is enigmatic and captivating. Her quiet but fettered youth is as fascinating for her counterpart as it is for us. Drain is equally stunning, giving a performance so laden with emotion that it is almost physical. She quivers, she aches and infuses the archaic dialog with thin lines of humour. Together they seamlessly play one soul. They are troubled and wild but entirely doubled together. If feels truly magical, as they perfectly encapsulate the relationship a woman might have with her younger and older self.

Sam Chittenden’s writing elegantly transforms the folklore into the actual. The use of dialect is deft, the storytelling engaging and entirely consistent with the world around the show. Sary seems to be speaking across the centuries and this is a credit to Chittenden’s writing. She has created an entirely convincing narrative world. I have reservations about meaning being lost in the heavy dialect, however it is so necessary to the nature of the play that it would be improper to dilute it.Sary is a bold and interesting watch. It is stunning in its exploration of womanhood through the mythical in a way that feels almost like history. The two actresses are incredible in their connection with the audience. It is a gem at this years’ Fringe, and a must see for anyone who loves feminist folklore.

Sary is playing Sweet Novotel until 25 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website