The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth – 13 October and Tour
85 minutes – no interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
Review – Cormac Richards – 10 October
When my Father’s dementia progressed to the point where my Mother couldn’t cope with him at home, the Family had to make a decision on re-locating him to a care home. Finding one for someone in their 50s was difficult. It was a wrench. A feeling of giving-in, of compromise at his expense.
In ‘Sundowning’ we witness the pain dementia delivers to the individual and to the family around. We are shown how the memory of past experiences stay vivid, while awareness of the present is lost. How the individual is concerned with the trivial yet unable to focus on the important.
Nessah Muthy has written a part-autobiographical story about the hopeless situation felt by everyone.
Betty is in a care home. Alyssa, her tearaway granddaughter, is shocked to find her there and battles with her aunt whose decision to move Betty there it was. Alyssa uses past memories to stimulate Betty’s mind – which was how I used to speak with my Father – and she takes Betty on a road trip in the old family camper van and through the use of Betty’s husbands old clothing and some Old Spice, Betty is ‘living’ again. But nothing can last forever and neither Betty or Alyssa can find happiness and contentment.
The themes in the place are profound and deep. Dealing with dementia is deeply distressing, harrowing and, seemingly, ultimately hopeless. The effects on everyone are exhausting and painful.
Played on a simple set with two doors and a bed – which ‘converted’ to the camper van and with a backdrop of indiscernible video images and arbitrary sounds along with the occasional blast of music from Elvis Presley – the care home is as bleak as they come.
At 85 minutes in length without an interval this production felt so much longer. The pace was pedestrian at best and there was so little variation in the dynamics throughout the play that it dragged badly. Director Helena Bell could so easily tighten up the piece.
For a subject matter which is full of emotion – little was transmitted from the performers to the audience. The relationship between Alyssa and Betty was sweet but never touched a nerve of emotion. Maybe, seeing something of Betty as she had been before her illness, a recollection of Alyssa’s memory, could have provided that pull on the heartstrings of the audience. But there was nothing here offered by the writer.
Attempts at some comic moments were fleeting and when it came, the ending was glossed over fast – and was an ending of hopelessness. All a bit depressing really.
For information, Sundowning is ‘A state of increased agitation and confusion, disorientation, and anxiety that typically occurs in the late afternoon or evening in some individuals affected with dementia.’
The cast were a curate’s egg of performances, the most effective being Aasiya Shah as Alyssa. Hazel Maycock was given nowhere to go really as Betty and Nadia Nadif as Teresa was a one-dimensional ‘bad cop’. It wasn’t the best acting I have seen.
The production is presented by Kali Theatre who ‘develop and tour ground breaking, thought provoking, contemporary theatre by women writers of South Asian descent’.
Laudable though this attempt at dealing with important matters is concerned, it was not engaging for the audience – a number of whom left part way through.
A bleak ending to an underwhelming piece on an important subject.
Betty – Hazel Maycock
Teresa – Nadia Nadif
Alyssa – Aasiya Shah
Writer – Nessah Muthy
Director – Helena Bell
Designer – Rajha Shakiry
Lighting Designer – Pablo Fernandez Baz
Sound Designer – Dinah Mullen
Video Designer – Daniel Denton