Guy Steddon first came across the play many years ago when he bought a copy in a closing-down sale at a Chichester bookshop.
He appeared in it a long time ago when he was “too young” and in a production which didn’t particularly work.
And ever since it has been the itch that hasn’t gone away. Now he is scratching it with his own production of Disappeared, by Phyllis Nagy, as part of Wick Theatre Company’s 70th-anniversary season.
As Guy says, the play has got a great tagline, one that instantly intrigues: Sarah Casey is Missing.
The troubled unhappy young travel agent left a New York dive bar one night with a mysterious stranger and has not been seen or heard of since. Has she fled her disappointing life to start anew elsewhere? Has she fallen prey to a sadistic killer? Or has she simply Disappeared?
Who is Elston Rupp? Is he a harmless, oddball fantasist who enjoys retreating into make believe or is he something else; something far more sinister and violent? Was their meeting coincidence or fate?
Detective Ted Mitchell is on the case, searching for answers to all of these questions and more, piecing together the events of that fateful night and the strange developments that follow.
Guy said: “It is quite an obscure piece that won lots of awards in the late 90s and was critically lauded but didn’t really take off. You get these kinds of things sometimes when something doesn’t really kick on as you would expect it to.
“But I stumbled across it. I found it in a closing-down bookshop in Chichester when I was a penniless drama student. I grabbed a handful of plays, and one of them was this one. I can’t tell you what any of the others were, but when I read this one, I was absolutely blown away.
“It has been one of my all-time favourite plays for a long time, and I finally took the plunge and decided to do it. When you really care about something, you want to make sure that you are going to do it properly. It’s quite a small cast. There are only eight characters in it, but they are all very, very well-rounded characters, and I just wanted to make sure I had the right people. You start it, and you think it is going to be Agatha Christie-esque, but it is very multi-layered, a psychological thriller but lots of it is very funny. It is a play that poses question after question but always wrong-foots you. You can never feel easy with it. But at the same time, it is very funny. It is very tense, but there are moments of black humour.
“This young travel agent has disappeared. She has had a relatively-unhappy personal life. She goes into a bar and meets a man, a very strange, unusual man. They leave together, and she is never seen again. The play is about what happens to her. Has this strange man killed her? He is certainly odd, but is he dangerously odd? Or has she just run away.
“It goes back and forth in time so you find out much more about Sarah, and you also find out more about the strange man. And also the detective. You think he is your average New York cop from a police procedural. He is dog tired and world weary, but he becomes a little bit unsettled by what has happened and ends up digging within himself…”
Performances of Disappeared run from Wednesday, April 4 to Saturday, April 7 at the Barn Theatre, Southwick Street, Southwick. The curtain up is at 7.45pm. Tickets £11 on 01273 597094 or www.wicktheatre.co.uk.
See other stories by Phil: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2