Review: Silver Lining (Rose Theatre Kingston)

Sandi Toksvig’s new play is set in a retirement home under threat of flooding

Social care is in crisis in the UK – one of the many crises we’re experiencing at the moment – and QI presenter Sandi Toksvig‘s new play takes us right into the heart of a care home. But Silver Lining is far from anything you’d dub as doom and gloom poverty porn. It makes light work of the people and the place that it focuses on.

Perhaps that’s its problem. While trying to flag a few of the bigger issues surrounding care for the elderly in the UK – the crippling loneliness and the sense that old people are an irrelevance – it goes for out-and-out comedy, ahead of the actual stories of its characters.

Silver Lining opens in the main room in an old people’s home, where five old ladies congregate while storm Vera rages outside. As they talk, it becomes clear that where they should have been evacuated, they have actually been forgotten. Only a young woman from Croydon – an agency nurse looking to make some cash before she heads to university – has been sent to help them, but she has less an idea than they do of what on earth she should be doing. As the storm gets worse, the flood levels rise and the women are increasingly faced with the fact that they will die alone in "this shit hole". That is until they decide against that fate and begin to work together to construct a way of getting out.

Each woman has her own story – one’s suicidal, one is hopeful that her daughter is coming to get her soon, one speaks about her life as a lesbian at a time when society deemed being gay wrong. But these stories aren’t woven into the fabric of the play well. They come out, clunkily, in almost dream-like sequences, where the characters speak out to the audience. And quite apart from the unbelievable nature of their stranding – why on earth they don’t use the mobile phone they have to get help, I couldn’t fathom – the way they construct their getaway also is very far-fetched.

Toksvig is funny, we know that from her regular TV and radio appearances, and here she really lets rip with the one-liners. But they drown this play, making fun of old, young, white, black, religious, rich and poor so that, by the end, it all feels a big mess of misplaced comedy. There are a few cheap laughs too, and the character of Hope, the young woman come to help them, is a terrible, predictable cipher. She’s yoof in the extreme, entering into the room with a selfie stick while she periscopes her life to the world. But it is condescending on both sides too – the old ladies are, in the most part, portrayed as out of touch and one as horribly racist. Though it tries to show individualism in these women, instead the play just paints a disappointingly stereotypical picture of what an old person is.

It is clear that old and young are supposed to learn something from each other – and see each other in a new light – in this piece, but that never lands properly. The humour keeps kicking in, relentlessly, so that when there’s real sadness at the end, we just don’t feel it.

There are some strong performances – Keziah Joseph works well with what she has as agency worker Hope, while Sheila Reid holds the entire show together as leopard-print wearing Gloria. But Rebecca Gatward’s staging is static and predictable, interrupted by some oddly-placed projections on the walls of harsh rain and storm. And this play drags, so much so that you’ll feel that years may have passed outside without you.

Silver Lining runs at Rose Theatre Kingston until 11 February before touring to Portsmouth, Oxford, Cambridge, Ipswich, Keswick, York and Salford.