Not many plays or productions leave me tearful but this one certainly did. It’s a skillfully written piece as the jigsaw puzzle becomes clearer and clearer as the play progresses and the emotional reaction to the play at the end is powerful. As we tumbled out of the theatre to make our way to the tube station, it was London’s brisk autumnal weather that helped to keep my tears in check.
Set in Pembrokeshire, elderly twin sisters, Anest and Iola, charaterise the travails of old age, the devastating effects of dementia and the sweet, strong family bond in the face of adversity. Menna, a neurotic woman, rushes back to her childhood home after receiving a letter from her aunt Iola, who has a tumour and who suffers from dementia. She arrives to find both women missing and fears the worst. Her fears are unfounded – for the time being, anyway- and she begins a difficult journey trying to reconnect with her mother Anest, Iola, and through them with her own land and history.
There are lyrical dreamy sequences in this play which is why it demands patience from its audience if they want to appreciate the play. For the first 45 minutes, a woman sitting behind me was fuming rather audibly about not understanding ‘what this was all about’ but, judging by her silence for the remaining time, I think she got it in the end. The play isn’t without its flaws – there doesn’t seem to be any doctors in this village and the agony is, at times, over-agonised – but playwright Tim Price’s writing is a refreshing and sensitive portrayal of a difficult and delicate subject.
The small but strong cast adds much weight to this play. The most striking performance is from Anna Calder-Marshall as Iola, who oscillates from being lucid, to forgetfulness to downright vicious anger and back. Anna Carteret give us a dignified and supportive Anest whose devotion to her sister is unshakeable to the very end. The relationship between the two sisters is so strong that all other relationships take second place. Imogen Stubb’s Menna is frantic and struggles to make sense of everything around her but I found Ms Stubb’s Welsh accent a little too laboured for my liking. Roger Evans, who plays the policeman Gareth representing Menna’s past, gives us a sensitive performance. Chloe Lamford’s marine set design feels suitably claustrophobic in this probing production.