One Under review – heartrendingly tender and enigmatic portrait of grief

When a man steps in front of a London Underground train, the city screeches to a halt. But in that moment, the lives of his loved ones also come to a shuddering stop. And, as Winsome Pinnock’s portrait of grief explores, it takes them much longer to begin moving forward.

Pinnock’s reimagining of her 2005 play directs its focus on mental health and loneliness. What was a tale of two men haunted by guilt becomes a study of bereavement, depression and paranoia. Staged by Graeae as part of Ramps on the Moon, a programme designed to integrate disabled and non-disabled theatre-makers and put accessibility at the heart of the creative process, it’s a reminder that not all disabilities are visible.

One Under has the shape of a thriller but the only real mysteries are the complex patterns of grief and the unknowability of another’s mental anguish. We see two timelines, separated by the shattering death at the play’s centre. In the aftermath of Sonny’s (Reece Pantry) suicide, train driver Cyrus (Stanley J Browne) and Sonny’s adoptive mother Nella (Shenagh Govan) search for answers, convinced that all is not as it seems.

Interwoven with these scenes are moments from the last day of Sonny’s life, as he sweeps sad-eyed launderette worker Christine (Clare-Louise English) off her feet.

Sad-eyed … Reece Pantry and Clare-Louise English in One Under. Photograph: Patrick Baldwin

It’s a tricky play: heartrendingly tender at some moments and bogged down with unlikely coincidence and cryptic motives at others. Amit Sharma’s production deals better with the former than the latter, bringing gentleness to delicate scenes of connection but struggling to make sense of the play’s more enigmatic sequences.

Amelia Jane Hankin’s compact, multipurpose set surrounds the performers with a curving wooden structure – part climbing frame, part ribcage.

Elegant though it is, it strands all the action in the centre of the stage, leaving gaping expanses on either side. Meanwhile the integrated captioning, billed as “creative”, lacks the imagination displayed in previous Graeae productions.

By refocusing on mental health, One Under speaks more urgently to current conversations. Yet it remains a strange, slippery piece, yielding no more answers to its audience than to the people Sonny leaves behind.

At Live theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 12-13 November. Then touring until 21 December.

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