by Abi Morgan.
Royal Lyceum Theatre Grindlay Street EH3 9AX To 12 November 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & 2 Nov 2.30pm.
Audio-described 3 Nov (+ Touch Tour 6.15pm), 5 Nov 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm).
BSL Signed 9 Nov.
Captioned 12 Nov 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 1 Nov.
Post-show matinee Discussion Group: 2 Nov.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0131 248 4848.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 October.
The enclosed life and the open mind in finely-formed new drama.
An assassin in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar claims that “he who cuts off twenty years of life cuts off so many years of fearing death.” Modern society could add ‘and as many worrying about mental decay’. Dementia’s in the dramatic mind; following Melanie Wilson’s all-too-briefly seen Autobiographer comes this co-production between Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum and the National Theatre Scotland, directed by NTS chief Vicky Featherstone.
Whereas Wilson went inside the experience of dementia, Morgan looks at it from the outside, building on an American research project which is examining the impact of aging on the mind through groups of volunteer nuns – whose lives are well-documented, who stay in one place a long time and whose lifestyle cuts out such wild-card elements as alcohol and illegal drugs.
Here it means an invasion of the nuns’ territory by a largely male research team as convent boss Sister Miriam (immediately established as a strong, humane presence by Colette O’Neil) is giving way to her successor, Maureen Beattie’s sprightly, mentally agile Sister Ursula.
A strength of Morgan’s writing, reflected in the production, is the way the researchers’ series of discrete annual visits become almost an uninterrupted flow of events, focused on the convent, without losing the sense of time passing. Each nun has her own qualities, established by the lively acting; there’s no doubt this is a group of individuals.
Over several years, the onset of dementia is presented movingly through reactions, and is never exploited. Meanwhile, pure research is compromised as the team’s leader Richard (Nicholas le Prevost, all academic keenness) becomes involved in financial wrangling when medical research clashes against pharmaceutical megabucks.
There’s an eventual cost to the finely-sculpted development, as Morgan tries pushing too much into the later stages, some of it none-too-necessary; the introduction of Richard’s personal life and love is unhelpful, while soliloquies for two central characters are out-of-key with the rest of the script.
A large, high-walled set does little to create space or place, while some downstage furniture doesn’t help some sightlines. Such things can change, for this fine, and finely-performed play, is worth a wider audience.
Sister Ursula Mary: Maureen Beattie.
Audrey Marie: Emma Hartley-Miller.
Dr Sam Parker: Finn den Hertog.
Sister Ruth Augustine: Molly Innes.
Dr Helen Jarvis: Libby King.
Sister Miriam Thomasina: Colette O’Neil.
Dr Richard Garfield: Nicholas Le Prevost.
Dr Jonathan Lees: Benny Young.
Director: Vicky Featherstone.
Designer/Projection/Costume: Merle Hensel.
Lighting: Natasha Chivers.
Sound/Composer: Nick Powell.
Assistant director: Jenna Watt.
Associate sound: Nick Sagar.