So It Goes is about the unspeakability of grief. About those wounds so raw they resist words.
Strike that. Start again.
So It Goes is about Hannah Moss. When Moss was 17, her dad died. For a long time, she didn’t talk about it. In the show she has made with David Ralfe, she doesn’t talk about it either. Or at least not out loud.
Recognising that some things are impossible to speak, So It Goes reaches for other forms of communication. Instead of talking to us, Moss tells her story in written fragments, holding up placards and scribbling on whiteboards strung around her neck. Childlike in its simplicity – reflecting, perhaps, the early memories of her dad that Moss gleefully reenacts for us – the spirit of this central device extends to the cartoonish, storybook aesthetic of the whole show. Backdrops are outlined in bold sweeps of felt-tip pen and props come in the form of cardboard cut-outs.
Actions, replacing as they do words, are similarly broad-stroked. There’s a silent-film-meets-Lecoq influence to Moss and Ralfe’s use of movement, whether in energetic running montages or endearingly gawky dance sequences. At times, this style animates Moss’s story in ingenious and surprising ways. A reconstruction of the moment Moss’s parents met is gorgeous and bittersweet, while the sudden revelation of her dad’s illness slices abruptly through the carefully constructed whimsy that surrounds it. At others, though, the form feels forced, hampering rather than driving the narrative.
On the one hand, words can only say so much. The beauty of the show’s concept is that it places a light but poignant emphasis on the unsaid and the unsayable. At her dad’s bedside, Moss struggles to fit her feelings in the limited space she has given herself, repeatedly scrubbing out half-started sentences. In the end she just settles for “goodbye dad”. A chorus of “oh”s in the doctor’s office is all that needs to be – or can be – said, while the power of those six terrifying letters, “CANCER”, is even more suffocating in stark back and white.
On the other hand, words can only say so much. Especially when those words are limited to the surface of a small whiteboard. Often, there is the sense of one idea being stretched to fill an entire show, limiting its scope in the process. The form puts brakes on the content, short-circuiting complexity. The feelings that both Moss and the piece are grappling with are big and messy, but presented like this they become deceptively simple and neat-edged, like the hand-drawn scenery they play out against. Sentimentality trumps complication.