Moon River, shrewdly written by Seiriol Davies, tells the tale of Gladys, a newcomer to the Silver Street Centre, a residential home for the elderly in Chingford. The play reveals her trials and torments as she attempts to both remember and forget her past and come to terms with her unsettling and unfamiliar present. Based on true accounts from Tender Trap Theatre’s time spent researching the hang-outs and haunts of the over-75s, this play accurately paints the picture of an environment that is both harrowing and heartwarming.
Gladys, deftly played by Julia Voce, is the anchoring character, drawing the audience into her story, the pain she experiences and disguises, and her awkward relationships with others. She’s instantly loveable precisely for her cranky sarcasm and often displays a crackling wit intermingled with some deliciously dry one-liners: “And I’m telling you Mary, you can’t give someone an ASBO just for speaking German on a bus.”
Characterisation on Voce’s part – and by all the actors in fact, given that this mixed age company are all portraying pensioners – was spot on, although a little difficult to engage with at first. Perhaps we are more used to seeing middle-aged mutton masquerading as youthful lamb, for there is something quite disturbing about seeing 25-year-old, fresh-faced actors play hunched, gnarled, bed-wetting, raspberry-blowing pensioners such as Esther (Lizzie Wort).
Moon River involves elements of flashback, nostalgia, tales of childhood and war, friendships lost and made, and above all a sense of shared, and often humourous, camaraderie in age. British culture, it is true, does not respect the aged, and Moon River highlights how pitifully shameful this is.
The direction (by Caroline Horton) is well executed, making clever use of lighting and sound effects, and incorporates a realistic set; yet all in all the play lacks cohesion. The overall message – or question – is unclear, and the ending comes all too abruptly with a peculiar finality to a story that remained untold. Regardless, Moon River is worth watching for its energetic, truly committed troupe of actors, with some excellent writing to boot.