by Melanie Wilson.
Tour to 8 October 2011.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 October.
Highly concentrated theatricality and nuanced performances make for a gripping, and never gratuitous, experience.
In Bryony Lavery’s play A Wedding Story two characters discuss how to tell a doctor she has Alzheimer’s disease. They ask her what Alzheimer’s is, and her reply suddenly stops in a moment of understanding: “I’ve got it” she says – or asks. It’s a startling, memorable moment.
Melanie Wilson takes a different approach to the matter of dementia in general. Her cast of four women recalls Charlotte Keatley’s story of four female generations in a family, My Mother Said I Never Should. Yet Wilson, hitherto a solo performer, has her four characters as stages of one life, Flora’s. All are, she suggests, contained within Janet Henfrey’s portrayal of Flora at her oldest age.
Life here is a single, varying state rather than a straightforward development that leaves past selves behind. Flora’s past has been taken away, or survives only in disjointed fragments. Wilson shows this several ways. The script (rarely dialogue) passes between the four women, all in long, neutral, almost uniform-length blue dresses. References recur. But the smoothness of the earlier part is eventually disrupted by more uneven, disturbed and worried elements.
The audience is engaged in the struggle to remember – how to spell a word, or count backwards from twenty, or answer simple questions about themselves. Where an answer’s provided, the performer repeats it; otherwise, it’s shrugged off as unimportant.
Movement changes, from controlled calm to agitation and disaggregation – at one point all four stand together, but looking away from each other.
Everything happens in a small black chamber, lit in neutral colour by a brain-pattern of tiny lights. Sound is more complex; disconnected from the room, like a separate life, it can include echoes of phrases spoken, but is mainly a composition of music and sound, initially tending towards the smooth and calm, but increasingly loud and irregular, an aural attack reflecting the agitation of a disrupted life.
Thoroughly researched, a vivid theatrical, poetic exploration of the experience of dementia, this piece is true to its subject. Yet it also resonates with wider human experience of loss and disconnections between phases of life, and aspects of experience.
Cast: Janet Henfrey, Alice Lamb, Penelope McGhie, Melanie Wilson
Director/Sound: Melanie Wilson.
Designer: Peter Arnold.
Lighting: Ben Pacey.
Costume: Zoe Thomas-Webb.