ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
Really Old, Like Forty Five
Lyn (Judy Parfitt) has a daughter Cathy (Amelia Bullmore) but no grandchildren unlike her sister Alice (Marcia Warren), who has the care of three grandchildren. The play opens in a theatre bar in the interval where Lyn is being very outspoken, caustic and almost unpleasant. Lyn and Alice's brother Robbie (Gawn Grainger) has a much younger girlfriend and will disguise his real age with trendy clothes, wigs and Botox.
Switch to the policy think tank where Monroe (Paul Ritter) is proposing strategies for the overpopulation of the over 60s and the rise of Alzheimer's affecting 10% of the population. He tells his colleagues, "We have not learnt how to die" as he proposes that the over 60s should either care for the neglected under 16 year olds or enter a hospital called "The Ark" where they will be guinea pigs for new drug trials and meet their end unless, that is, they opt for a Home Death. In a bitchy theatrical joke, we are told that "the Ark" is a touring venue for the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company and the other main recipient of Arts Council funding besides the National Theatre). Monroe's colleague Amanda (Tanya Franks) discusses the drug trials, one of which it is hoped will provide total recall and solve the dementia problem. Lyn is showing signs of forgetting and her trial adoption of teenager Millie (Lucy May Barker) will not save her from "The Ark".
After the interval the scenes move to "The Ark" where an android nurse Mimi (one of Matthew Bourne's actor/dancers Michela Meazza) is caring for Lyn, and civil servant Monroe has had a disturbing brain scan.
In a bravura performance, Judy Parfitt rages, angry and unreasonable, with the mechanical Mimi switching to comfort mode to soothe the residents, which is based on a purring, stroking cat. Michela Meazza transfixes when she is on stage with her robotic, jerky movements and whirring mechanical parts. White limbed, she holds her arms and hands at an awkward angle like a doll. In anger she is like a gryphon, reminding me of the creatures that guard the Corporation of London boundaries, with her red cross and white wings. Poor, gullible Alice agrees to be experimented on and loses a leg to science and Marcia Warren is believable although the part doesn't really give her enough scope to show her comic genius. Paul Ritter is wonderfully funny with the terrible twist of fate turning the tables on him.
We see a proposal to mark pavements (sidewalks) with lanes, one for the slow elderly, one for walking pace pedestrians and one for runners, but fortunately this is thrown out when Amanda points out the impracticality asking which lane senior runners would use and how you would overtake.
Lez Brotherston's set is detailed and the ward with its old tiled walls grimly, institutionally authentic. Anna Mackmin directs with conviction but the audience never really believe that this could happen. Tamsin Oglesby has tackled a pressing subject, the skewing of the population towards an increasingly elderly demographic and the search for a drug cure for dementia but she lets her audience off the hook with the distraction of the comic android. This has been done before. Who remembers Janie Dee as the wonderfully detailed robotic soap star in Alan Ayckbourn's 1998 Comic Potential?
Despite most of the National Theatre audience being of the age eligible for "The Ark", they found Tamsin Oglesby's comedy very funny although I must admit I was uncomfortable with just how near the bone some of the ageist jokes are. The play virtually sold out its current booking period before it opened. Maybe the title appealed to the National Theatre's mailing list members or maybe it was the draw of Marcia Warren? I think they may be disappointed or just confused!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.