DDF’s Sonder: a closer look

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Ever wondered how during your daily, ordinary walk through Market Square, someone else could be searching for the ideal interviewee to inspire and be a part of their new play? Well, this is exactly what directors and did. Bravely standing under the central statue with a sign asking strangers if they, or more specifically their voice, would like to be in their new play. I had the chance to sit down with the directors and two performers from the play Sonder, which West and Jennings-Mares co-wrote for the upcoming Durham Drama Festival.

Focusing and exploring themes of connection, disconnection and most importantly the appreciation for the diversity of life paths, after asking about the plot West starts out with the statement that Sonder is “not really a play”. Being collated verbatim from the interviews of five different individuals Sonder will be authentic and as West points out it could be called a “documentary collage”. Jennings-Mares also makes the point that Sonder is “an arrangement of people’s words”. These words were collected through two rounds of interviews. West also points out that when people ask her about the play, she always starts with the definition of Sonder, which can be found in a dictionary that has words for “all the things in life that we don’t quite have a word for”. Sonder is defined, in West’s words, “the profound realisation that everyone including strangers is living a life as complex and interesting as your own”. Jennings-Mares builds upon this and says, “this is want we want to explore” and that Sonder is about “connection with people”.

Focusing and exploring themes of connection, disconnection and most importantly the appreciation for the diversity of life paths

Set at a bus stop, that the fine art background West has been creating for the set, the team want the play to encourage viewers to break away from their perspectives and begin to see others’ perspectives. Creating characters based on members of the public, it is going to be the jobs of the performers to showcase these different perspectives. Having spoken to and Nat Pryke, the two shared how they have approached creating a character by listening to their words recorded in the interviews. Pryke says she feels “a big sense of duty” to play her character “honestly and authentically”. Pryke has decided to only listen to her character speaking her answers twice as she doesn’t “want to end up mimicking her” but rather communicate on her behalf without strictly copying her. Edwards explains how he approaches developing his character. Unlike a script “you are not trying to search for the meaning that it was written with you almost trying to like give it the meaning when the person said it”. Edwards also tries to create an authentic character through observation and making use of people watching, and taking note of how the everyday high street visitor conducts themselves. Both have approached their characters with their own methods, and I’m incredibly excited to see the results!

Sonder is also a long time in the making. West originally wanted to write a verbatim play based on her colleagues from a hospital. However, unfortunately, this was not going to be possible, and after meeting Jennings-Mares in October 2023 for the first time, the two agreed on the first day that they met that writing a play together would be something they would love to do! Also living together, the two have a unique directing dynamic. During the rehearsal process, West says “we’ve had our different strengths”, and most importantly the two have been “super honest with each other”, throughout the process and shared both the good and the bad. It was the dream to create a verbatim play that sparked the desire to create Sonder, and it was the interviews that the narrative, connection or disconnection and intersection with others, particularly strangers, was created.

Creating characters based on members of the public it is going to be the jobs of the performers to showcase these different perspectives

The director have made sure that Sonder is very experimental and so is guaranteed to be new and fresh, it’s very concept lays the foundation for this. Particularly for audience members with any involvement in Durham, this play is sure to be interesting as Jennings-Mares adds “it’s a bit of a social commentary of Durham so its relevant to everyone sat in the audience”. Exploring the Durham set-up, the play will showcase the multiple perspectives that this city’s inhabitants have, from the pressured uni student who is sold the singular path to success to the long-inhabiting local, openness and appreciation for each individual’s unique story is at the heart of this play. West’s bus stop will set the scene for the action to unfold so please head down to catch this play at The Mark Hillery Arts Centre from the 7th of February. Tickets can be found here. There is only one last thing I have to mention and that is from West, giving a shout out to her dad!

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