As her family struggle to come to terms with her Alzheimer’s, Irene’s past passion for romantic literature blurs with reality. She spends hours discussing how best to write her ‘memory book’ with her imaginary friend and favourite author Barbara Cartland (the deceased world famous romantic novelist), disclosing long kept family secrets that she would never divulge to her daughters…
Review of the Show
Read anything about this play, publicity-related or otherwise, and it rightly focuses on the fact that it deals with a sensitive, challenging subject: the descent into dementia of a mother, grandmother, widowed wife and, before that, smitten wartime sweetheart. Writer Gail Young does not provide us with a profoundly analytical dramatisation of an issue but uses the interactions within three generations of women (four, with the addition of some key references) from the same family to humanise that issue.
New Forest Players’ uncluttered set immediately indicates the clarity and simplicity of this approach, facilitating as it does swift (but not always quite as swift as they might be) inter-cutting between key conversations and shared moments. At its quiet epicentre are, fittingly, two living rooms, from which we venture out as far as an NHS consulting room and a local street, providing us with glimpses of the clinical and the social impact of the core situation.
As Irene, the central character, Jane Sykes gives a well-judged performance, avoiding any temptation to caricature or over-play; the same is true of Joy Bacon as Barbara Cartland, the romantic novelist, or at least her spirit, conjured for company and guidance from within Irene’s mind. In Jane Sykes’s hands, Irene is a ‘normal’, down-to-earth character throughout, even if her normality is crucially at odds with that which surrounds her, while Joy Bacon confidently captures and sustains Cartland’s refinement and distinctive take on the world but could afford to incorporate more of the flamboyance that, along with refinements to some of the other performances, would have helped add tonal diversity to the production.
Such shortcomings are, in part, at the heart of where there is room for the production to grow during its short run. Along with an unsettling number of early prompts, the uneven quality of the projection, even with a relatively intimate space, a lack of pace (and variety thereof) and insufficient variation in tone limited the overall achievement of the opening night. Each of these elements, along with aspects of individual characterisations, would benefit from firmer, more decisive directorial vision and guidance.
Along with those performances already mentioned, Anne-Maria Stone’s sympathetic Louise, one of Irene’s daughters, is consistently satisfying, a characterisation within which the actor seems at ease throughout. Fiona Fowler, making her début as the slightly harder sister, Beth, battled early wobbles and seemed to grow in confidence: projection and range of mood need more work but there certainly seems to be the potential for such development. David Luker, as the NHS consultant tellingly identified by function rather than by name, has the strength to merit a more relaxed, less mannered delivery, posture and movement.
Finally, words of deserved encouragement for two younger debutants. Ieuan Luker, ill at ease and inhibited in his first scene, appears more comfortable with the demands of the second of his two (related) roles in the second half; his closing speech is particularly sensitively delivered. Jasmine Glyde, as Young Irene and Shelly, looks convincing and gives the impression of having more to offer than was realised on opening night. I would urge her to take heart from a capable first night and have the self-belief to significantly improve the vocal volume (including ensuring that intimacy is played as stage intimacy), move as she does but with greater conviction and self-confidence, have confidence in her own ability and boldly bring the character into fuller life.
There is certainly time for self-belief and greater boldness of playing– certainly not the same as over-playing – throughout to transform an interesting and worthwhile production into a genuinely absorbing and diversely rewarding one.