‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’
The felt sense of the ‘descent’ toward Traverse 2 only added to the theme of this play. The set is a traditional home with bright lighting, a bleak juxtaposition of the dark and hidden topic of dementia and its impact on everyone in its path. Barrie Hunter’s performance was breath taking and painfully real. The audience are placed as voyeurs on the outside of the home of a family as it battles with dementia on all fronts. This play should come with a warning… It hits you in the face with brutal honesty. It is easy to imagine that so many people and families have experienced the devastation caused by dementia. The isolation of the sufferer as lucidity declines and people who were once close can’t find a way to connect. The isolation and shameful grief of those around them as the lose someone they love and still see the shell of them. Wendy Seager, wife and mother, Cathy, delivered some painful monologues with a bullseye shot… “He’s not there…” Hunter played that vacancy beautifully. His character is diverse, fiery, articulate and inevitably, lost.
Linda Duncan McLaughlin’s Descent is in association with Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival. I felt this work shone a light on the untold experiences of dementia and from that perspective it is a must see. On a personal level, this was not an easy watch, it was uncomfortable and sad. As an audience member the shock and sadness was palpable but there is also humour and love in handfuls, care and reality on all edges. We shared an experience and maybe this will bring awareness to how to manage this destructive disease and take the shame out of being with it. FOUR STARS
The lights go down after the introduction and the stage lights do their magic. Illuminating a well designed set that though sparse on the floor is a feast for the eyes with all the architectural models proudly displayed on the walls.
The wall of a lifetimes work.
The wall of the past and present.
The wall is full.
There is no place for the future to hang.
Cathy (Wendy Seager) is packing a suitcase. She tells us , ‘This is how he packs a case….precise, ordered, familiar…’ Her architect husband asks the audience,‘ When does anything begin?’ and proceeds to take us on a verbal journey about the precise moment that a seedling becomes a seedling before it parts the soil. This play is a tricky one. Tricky in its subject matter. We all tend to shy away from subjects like dementia – there are few of us who would choose this way to go when it comes to our time for the big Exit.
Rob, his wife Cathy and daughter Nicola are the family Linda Duncan McLaughlin has wrote about, bringing awareness of this harrowing condition that affects most of us at some point in our lives. She does this with a great deal of thought, intellect and compassion. There is not a soupcon of sentimentality. Each character has been carefully honed to represent the contrasting coping strategies different people utilise under such awful stress. It is clear that this family was a happy and loving one but with the onslaught of this invasive disease the cracks inevitably appear. Cathy confides in us at the point when they are getting the formal diagnosis as she watches their daughter Nicola become a carbon copy of her dad writing lists and seemingly being cold hearted asking which sort of care plans are available to them. She confesses that as much as she loves her daughter and knows that she means well, ‘there are times when I could crush her hand to dust.’ This insight into the personal day to day life of dementia victims and their families who struggle to find ways to keep dignity afloat is powerful and inspiring. It is a testament to McLaughlin’s skills in writing to be able to navigate through this traumatically repetitive illness which cruelly peels off the vital layers and binders of memory that hold a family together with touches of fiery humour.
The cast are fantastic : each one living their part so well that we have a deep connection to them from the onset. Rob is played by Glaswegian south-sider Barrie Hunter, a versatile actor who was flawless throughout. Fiona MacNeil got the balance between strength, confusion and love as the daughter perfect allowing the stoic character of Cathy to shine at all the right moments. Director Allie Butler knows what she is doing!
The sound designer and technician Pauline Morgan and Andy Cowan also deserve a mention for the very eerie recordings at the end and the dual carriageway sound effects when Rob gets lost and is wandering in the dual carriageway. As I left with tears in my eyes I heard an audience member say to her friend, ‘It was very well done but too close to the bone.’ As it should be.Theatre that is real. A must see – thought proving , challenging, and utterly humane. FIVE STARS