A new one-man play about the experience of having a missing loved one is raising funds for Missing People after every performance at the Edinburgh Festival. Max Dickins play, The Man on the Moor, is inspired by the incredible true story of the sad discovery of an elderly-looking man's body beside a path on Saddleworth Moor in the Peak District in December 2015.
The man was discovered lying on his back, with his arms placed across his chest, facing perfectly straight downhill. He was carrying no form of identification: no phone, no wallet, no cards, no driving licence, and no keys. In his pockets was £130 in cash and three train tickets.
The police checked the National Criminal Intelligence and Missing Persons databases in an attempt to identify the man but neither provided a match. And despite a nationwide media campaign, no one came forward with any information about his identity.
InThe Man On The Moor, Dickins explores the story from the perspective of those searching for missing loved ones. He portrays a man looking for his own missing father; mirroring the real-life case of the son of Hugh Toner, who vanished from a hospital in Northern Ireland in 1994. In January 2016 Hugh Toner’s son approached the police believing that the description of the man on the moor matched that of his father. DNA evidence eventually ruled out a link, with Mr Toner’s son saying at the time, “Although this is a setback for my family and I, we will continue to search for answers in the hope that someday we will have closure.”
And it is this emotional purgatory that forms the main theme of the piece: people who vanish leave their friends and family in an excruciating limbo; not knowing whether their loved ones are dead or alive. Not knowing if they could have done anything to stop them leaving. There is anger, hurt, guilt, and burning curiosity: what drives someone to disappear? What are they running from or towards? How did I not see this coming? These feelings never dissipate or ease. Those left behind do not experience grief, but something different - something more painful, because grief has a resolution; the left behind do not.
Max Dickins, the writer/performer of the play, is fundraising at the end of his show for Missing People. He said: “Having done huge amounts of research for this show, trying to understand both the reasons for people going missing and the experience of those they leave behind, and having met real people who’ve had this experience as well, I was so moved by their trauma that raising money seemed like the least I could do.
“Since we’ve started doing the show we’ve had a great response from audiences and I’ve received many emails, tweets and Facebook messages from people who’ve been through this experience. It’s opened my eyes to how common the experience of missingness is and how perhaps we need to talk about it more as a society.
“I hope this show generates conversations to raise awareness of this issue.”
Bryony Long, Community Fundraising Manager at Missing People said: "We are really grateful for Max’s support. Raising funds is a really practical way to make a difference to missing people and their families. Our mission is to make sure every person is found safe and well – it’s through the creativity and generosity of our supporters like Max that we can keep moving towards this.”
In February this year, following a heroic 18 month police investigation, the man on the moor was finally identified as David Lytton. Much detail has since emerged about his life, death, and final journey. But the central mystery of this tragic story still remains unresolved: why did he do it? Perhaps we’ll never know. But at least his family have closure. Many others are not so lucky.
The Greater Manchester Police were contacted by 40 other people trying to identify missing relatives. All of them looking at the same photo and seeing their loved one. None provided a match. An estimated quarter of a million people go missing in the UK every year. 95% of missing people return within a week. But each year 2,000 people go missing and are never found.This is a story about them and the people looking for them, in this cathartic tale of amateur sleuthing.
The Man on the Moor runs until 27th August at the Cowgate venue in Ediburgh's Old Town. Book tickets online here.