Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Theatre Review: Visitors

A few weeks ago I went to see new young writer Barney Norris' first full-length play Visitors with my university drama society at the Bush Theatre in Shepherd's Bush. I knew absolutely nothing about the play before getting tickets but I rather enjoyed it. In a society where one-night stands with strangers and non-committal relationships have become the norm, I think Barney Norris has managed to create a touching piece of theatre about marital love, family life and growing old together.

Taking place in the Salisbury Plain farmhouse of elderly couple Arthur and Edie, the play follows the pair’s decline into old age and its all too frequent companion dementia. Recognising that life is no longer as easy for them as it was, their son Stephen enlists university graduate Kate to be their carer whilst he attempts to put his mother into a home and sell his parents’ farm, na├»ve to the unsettling effect these changes will have on all involved.

Whilst this play, entirely set in a living room, takes some time to gather momentum, the chemistry between Arthur (Robin Soans) and Edie (Linda Bassett) is convincing from the outset. Bassett is especially strong in playing an elderly woman descending into dementia; her condition is not evident from the start but when she repeats an anecdote for the third time the heart sinks as you realise what she is coping with. I think Norris hit the nail on the head with Edie as she often makes remarks that make the audience laugh without realising she is being funny, in that way that grandparents often do. For such a young writer, Norris seems to have an incredibly perceptive understanding of dementia and of the elderly, creating a poignant character whose condition will resonate with many. Because of the intimate setting the audience was made to feel like intruders at times into such personal family dilemmas - it reminded me of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming in that sense.

With the first half slightly lagging in pace, tension rises in the second half as Edie deteriorates and Stephen’s marriage falls apart. Simon Muller’s accurate portrayal of Stephen as a middle-aged man unable to do anything right in his life creates a sense of pathos in the audience. I don't know if this was the intention but I often felt very sorry for Stephen as he was quite a pathetic, helpless character in the depths of a mid-life crisis, who tried to get things right but didn't quite manage. However, the audience's sympathies simultaneously lie with Kate (Eleanor Wyld) who is disgusted with Stephen’s incompetence. I felt both Kate and Stephen's characters were far more developed in the second half and I enjoyed their performances so much more.

There were several really touching moments and comments about the fast, incessant pace of life and how we all have so much less time than we think we have, which means we take the time we have for granted. It really did make me think about it afterwards. All in all, Visitors is at once funny and tragic, heartfelt and brilliant, and is sure to make every audience member want to call their mum afterwards.

This is on until the 10th January at the Bush Theatre; if I had been organised and posted this right after I saw it, it would've allowed a lot more time to go and see it, but alas!

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