Stars explained: * A production of no real merit
with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not
enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real
life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A
good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely
achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a
great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major
flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic
which lifts theatre to another plane.
Twilight years in a life of memories: Lynn Ravenhill as Edie and Patrick Bentley as Arthur
The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster
IT would be very easy to reduce Barney Norris’s play Visitors to just a cosy view of a bygone era and a way of life that no longer exists.
It tells the story of Edie and Arthur, an elderly married couple now in their twilight years, the farm they have lived in all of their lives and the onset of Edie’s dementia. It’s poignant and touching and uneasily funny at times and contains the sort of simple homely values not often appreciated by a younger audience.
However written in the shadow of the economic recession in the 2008 financial crisis, its second agenda compares the modern quest for money, success and the search for a purpose in our lives against the backdrop of this simpler way of life and lasting relationships.
Edie is played beautifully by Lyne Ravenhill, softly reminiscing the fragments of her fading memory, then at times caustically joking or pin pointing other memories with complete clarity. Arthur is her doting husband, helpless to stop the tide of Edie’s dementia. Patrick Bentley took on the role and comfortably trod the path between the care of his wife and the bitterness he feels at his grown son Stephen, for leaving the family farm and its traditions, for a career in the empty world of insurance.
The son Stephen is played by Andy Bingham and he worked his character’s anxiety well into the mix. He was perhaps a bit young for the role as Stephen’s marriage of 20 years is coming to an end and he has a need to return the family home. As Mr Bingham looks not much older than a fresh 20 himself, the words seemed a bit implausible coming from him but his intensity in the role certainly came through.
The family is aided by the Visitor, young Kate, played intensely by Jessica Schneider. Kate is a law graduate, drifting without a job or career or any focus in her life. Kate has entered a programme to help care for those in need and comes to be a crucial part of the family’s lives. Her passion came fully through in a bitter exchange with Stephen who tries to ask her out on a date whilst disregarding his mothers increasing illness.
Bob Graham on his directorial debut has made a good beginning with this seemingly straight forward yet complex play. It touches nerves and asks questions that offer no answers. Visitors is nostalgic but the treatment of and onset of dementia is often a cruel and complex issue in any situation.
Often the humour that comes throughout the play serves as an antidote to sadder moments and the cast do a fine job of managing these emotions in the intimate space of the studio theatre.
Norris himself has said that `Theatres are empathy engines’. You certainly feel for the characters and members of the audience seemed visibly touched by the story they heard.
It’s not an easy play to watch but is handled well by The Nonentities. In a culture where young relationships are judged by their race and access to the housing ladder, it’s a reminder that love is still the reason and at the core of any close relationship. When you lose that, you lose your way and much more, so when it’s been found and has lasted, it’s a cruel blow when dementia comes to steal even the memory of it away. To 05-11-16