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A CurtainUp London London Review
Really Old, Like Forty Five

Old people are older than they have ever been. — Monroe
Really Old, Like Forty Five
Michela Meazza as Mimi and Paul Ritter as Monroe (Johan Persson)
Tamsin Oglesby's new play is a black satirical comedy about ageing, dementia and how a fictional British government proposes to ease the economic situation where so many elderly are dependent upon so few tax payers. The Cottesloe set is split in two, three generations of a family live underneath with three members in their seventies, while up above a government official responsible for policy is flanked by two colleagues, a scientific researcher and an accountant.

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!

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Really Old, Like Forty Five
Written by Tamsin Oglesby
Directed by Anna Mackmin

Starring: Judy Parfitt, Marcia Warren, Gawn Grainger, Paul Ritter, Michela Meazza
With: Amelia Bullmore, Thomas Jordan, Lucy May Barker, Paul Bazely, Tanya Franks
Design: Lez Brotherston
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Movement: Scarlett Mackmin
Music: The Ringham Brothers
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Video Designers: Mark Grimmer with Lysander Ashton for Fifty Nine Productions Ltd.
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 20th April 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th February 2010 performance in the Cottesloe, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX (Rail/Tube:Waterloo)

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