THE gaunt, deeply lined face that haunted a nation held us in an anticipatory collective silence. What was going to happen next?
“Questions chasing answers chasing questions chasing answers,” muses playwright and solo performer Max Dickens to the captivated audience at Millgate Art Centre in Delph.
We were here to witness the incredible Mister Dickens in a solo performance which relived and expanded the mystifying tale of the man who came to Saddleworth Moor in Demcember 2015, took poison, died – and we still don’t know why.
Initially, when police went public with the man’s image, 40 different people claimed him as their missing husband, father or brother.
These, as we learned, are tragically ‘the left behind’ – people who attempt to pick up the pieces when someone they love leaves and simply never returns home again.
Mister Dickens’ powerful drama extends that proposition and looks with an almost forensic eye at how people come to disappear and the impact on those they’ve left.
My original news story on the mystery man went viral as he had no form of identity and no one knew where he lived.
It took a year of supreme efforts by Oldham CID to actually identify the man as David Lytton who had left London and moved to Pakistan.
Mr Dickens fictional tale, ‘The Man on the Moor,’ lopes alongside the surreal reality of David’s death offering a sombre but uplifting portrayal of a son hunting for his dead father, delicately linked to cameos of those facing the same dilemma.
In 80 minutes he delves into the void of abject loss neatly counter balanced with comic asides: a masterly, dexterous performance.
I shared the experience with Detective Sergeant John Coleman, who headed the investigation with detectives Kelly Bragg and Nichols Chapman, and talented film producer-director Sarah Hey.
Det Sgt Coleman said: “I found it amazing seeing this story being brought to life in such a thought provoking and respectful way.
“The way Max managed to incorporate the ‘Dovestones investigation’ with the wider issues faced by families of missing persons was exceptional.”
Sarah, who turned the story into an award winning documentary for Channel 4 Despatches, added: “I was struck by how many people contacted the investigation team believing this man could be their long lost loved one while we were making the film.
“For these people, the investigation team never had good news – if he was, then they would learn his fate and if he wasn’t then they would still be left wondering where their loved one was.
“We were able to touch on this briefly in the film and it was wonderful to see how Max’s play explored this further, perfectly capturing the grief of those left behind.”
Collection boxes for Oldahm Mountain Rescue Team at the play brought in £279.66 and generous-hearted Saddleworth Live donated the profits from the show – £280.72 with gift aid of £70.18 – to raise a total of £630.66.