It is rare that we experience dementia from the perspective of the person who is struggling with it, rather we experience it from the viewpoint of family members and carers. This idea is obviously even more difficult to dramatise in a theatre. In The Father, written by Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton, Oldham Coliseum triumph in presenting a highly engaging but charming, heart-rending though witty, interpretation of Andre’s struggle with the disease.
Patrick Connellan’s raised set design is intelligently reminiscent of a Polaroid picture. The stage is framed almost like a photograph – perfectly suggestive of Andre’s struggle with memory. A deconstructed piano lies at the fore, hinting at Andre’s love of music and his attempt to make sense of the confusing world that envelopes him. A stunning piano soundtrack by Lorna Munden accompanies the cast as they adjust the stage around Andre. Confused and his senses heightened, he can hear the clank of cutlery and plates clashing and we feel his pain and confusion. Kevin Shaw has catered for every detail in this accomplished production. Stunning and painstakingly beautiful.
Kenneth Alan Taylor’s performance as Andre is nothing short of tremendous, charting one man and his family as they struggle with the grip of dementia. Giving a beautifully nuanced performance – managing to hint at the insight he still has into his condition, while giving depth to the rich and lively life he has had, he fleshes out the resilient fiery character that continues to push up against the disease. Kerry Peers gives a strong and emotive performance as Andre’s daughter Anne, always striving to do the right thing for her father despite the pressure she faces from her husband Pierre, played solidly by John Elkington.
As I looked around the Oldham Coliseum at the end of the show, it was clear to see that so many people had been moved by The Father. Two ladies sat in front of me wiped the tears from their eyes as others appeared to be sharing stories, clearly deeply touched by this phenomenal production. This is a flawless production that gets us talking, sharing and understanding dementia together.
Forever Young is a musical and a black comedy set in a nursing home where the residents are all retired actors. The play is based around each of the characters and their own quirks and traits – it’s rather like a collection of musical numbers punctuated by short comedy sketches.
Ironically, the play opens very quietly, the only noise being a clinical looking Sister George (Georgina White) who whistles the Kill Bill tune while slapping rubber gloves against her thighs and spraying air freshener around the residents lounge. Slowly each of the ageing thespians are revealed to us as they make their comical entries onto the stage. First up is MrBednarczyk, who is the musical director as well as a resident at the home – he reluctantly takes his seat at the grand piano to provide the soundtrack for the other characters to make their ceremonial entries on to the stage.
The cast are all superb, under the careful direction of Giles Croftand the clever choreography of Adele Parry, they all stagger to life and deliver some cracking numbers once Sister George exits the stage and closes the door. Mr Frater’s gait and word finding difficulties are highly convincing and Ms Little’s confused stare and disinhibited outbursts are all believable traits of somebody with dementia. When a conflict breaks out between Mr Frater and Mr Elkington, beside from being the slowest fight in history, it is the greatest source of humour for the audience – they roared with laughter on the night that I attended.
Musical comedy highlights are a plenty – the two romantics Ms Darcy and Mr Superville sing a sweet version of I Got You Babe as well as trying to recreate Torvill and Dean’s 1984 Olympic winning Bolero. Tiara and lace clad Ms Little also sends up a version of Aqua’s Barbie Girl with a prosthetic limb and uses her fox stole as an air guitar for an entertaining version of I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The play also harbours some tender moments between the characters – when Ms Little passes a tissue to Mr Frater we can only imagine that he is thinking about lost youth and love. Ms Darcy’s version of the Nirvana classic, Smells Like Teen Spirit, also reminds us of the loneliness associated with getting older.
The production is loaded with plenty of highly amusing comic sequences and characters that you could watch all day – however, there isn’t much of a plot to push it along and so it does feel like it drags at times. Nevertheless this didn’t appear to hinder the audiences enjoyment judging by their applause and squeals of laughter.
Forever Young celebrates the lives and loves of older adults and blows the assumption that people in nursing homes are just waiting for their final curtain call. As well as being a musical comedy on the surface – this play actually makes a valid commentary on the way that we treat and view older people. This talented cast of seven certainly prove that old age can be a laughing matter.
Forever Young runs at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday March 21st 2015