The Bear Pit, Wednesday 13th February, 2019
Barney Norris’s four-hander is ostensibly about dementia’s relentless campaign to rob us of our loved ones. Farmer’s wife Edie drifts into memories, spending most of her time in Memory Lane, while her husband Arthur does his best to keep going and support her. The couple take in young Kate, on some kind of house-share programme, to help around the place, while their middle-aged son Stephen faces marital difficulties of his own. The play depicts Edie’s decline pretty accurately, but it’s also about communication problems between parents and children, drawing parallels between Edie’s disease and Stephen’s unease.
In the central role of Edie, Judith Grundy gives a powerful performance. It tugs at the heartstrings to see her floundering in fear and bewilderment. In an otherwise naturalistic piece, Edie’s reminiscences are curiously lyrical and feel over-written, but Grundy takes us with her every step of the way.
Kevin Hand depicts Arthur’s abiding affection for Edie with humour and a twinkle in his eye. It’s an unsentimental piece and Hand is pitch perfect. Barry Purchase-Rathbone delivers Stephen’s awkward joke-telling and selfishness, while Zoe Mortimer’s Kate is intelligent and assertive, although it does feel that Kate is largely included so Edie can have someone to forget.
Inevitably, perhaps, it’s a rather sedentary piece. Getting out of chairs is problematic so there is a lot of sitting around and talking. Director Tony Homer makes sure the conversations are animated, and the close confines of the Bear Pit space allow for detailed and expressive performances from this strong quartet.
Ultimately, for me, it’s a case of not liking the play but admiring the production. For all its moments of humour, it’s a bit of a downer. Those familiar with the ravages of dementia on loved ones will recognise Edie’s symptoms. Others will be made more aware of how the disease throws lives into disarray. Raising awareness is a good thing but more should be said – shouted! – about the devastating cuts to vital support services and the deliberate underfunding of the NHS by this cruel and vicious government. With an ever-aging population, more and more people are going to need help; most won’t have a farm like Arthur and Edie they can sell to fund their care.