Timing is not always everything, but
Tamsin Oglesby’s sharp as a tack new play could have been prescribed
specifically to accompany Terry Pratchett’s headline-hogging plea for
dignity in death by assisted suicide.
But instead of suggesting that old age
alone is the cause of amnesia or Alzheimer’s, her play more interestingly
broadens the scope of the argument to encompass the whole human
Nobody’s perfect. Vacancy is as much
a state of mind in the young as the old, and policy wonks are just as
susceptible to tricks of perception as the batty old dear who thinks the
hospital’s a hotel and that sex is like pantomime – “silly
and rude, but at least it’s only once a year.”
Oglesby’s smart plays usually stem
from one big idea: the vicissitudes of the beauty business, or the after
effects of school bullying or, most recently, in The War Next
Door, domestic violence as a paradigm of cultural conflict.
Here, the slippage of two old sisters -
Judy Parfitt’s grizzled and combative Lyn and Marcia Warren’s
younger and deliciously off-centre Alice - into the health system
triggers a comedy of caring that revolves around the slightly obtuse idea that
an elderly turtle in the Natural History Museum represents the perennial life
force manifest in a new baby’s arrival.
The writing is funny and clever, the acting
in Anna Mackmin’s production uniformly superb, but the dramatic
texture’s a bit thin, and the play comes across as burningly topical but
somehow too diagrammatic.
The old dears have an even older brother,
Robbie, whom Gawn Grainger presents as a cantankerous old sod, head-butting
fellow customers in the bar of the National Theatre (you know the type) and
changing his girlfriends with the regularity of his increasingly youthful
And Paul Ritter’s manic policy
official, Monroe, leads a research team (Paul Bazely and Tanya Franks)
glued to their charts and computer screens devising pavement strategies and
euthanasia directives as the population becomes top heavy with the
Lyn’s daughter (Amelia Bullmore)
and Alice’s grandson (Thomas Jordan) are no less peculiar than the
oldsters, while Michela Meazza’s robotic nurse proves that curing and
caring is often more bizarre than natural disintegration.