Lucy May Barker, Paul Bazely, Amelia Bullmore, Tanya Franks, Gawn Grainger, Thomas Jordan, Michela Meazza, Judy Parfitt, Paul Ritter , Marcia Warren
Tamsin Oglesbys play is certainly timely, opening not long after Martin Amiss media-baiting silver tsunami comments and Terry Prachetts more contemplative discussion of what it is to face dementia.
As a subject its a very much a hot one at the moment, but Oglesbys handling of it is, to say the least, muddled.
Really Old, Like Forty Five takes place in a not too far off future where Alzheimers has reached epidemic proportion among the increasingly elderly population.
Lyns family, her middle aged daughter and her ageing sister and brother, are trying to deal with her slow mental unravelling punctuated by periods of lucidity but her inability to cope is becoming ever more apparent and hard to ignore; they realise that she needs more help than they can give.
This story is interwoven with a more strongly satirical narrative thread about a group of suited government types who are trying to implement a range of schemes designed to deal with the countrys growing numbers of the old and infirm. Their ideas veer from the silly to the sinister: urban slow lanes for the less mobile, enforced adoption programme where the elderly are made to care for disadvantaged teenagers, euthanasia pills, Home Deaths and medical trials. The latter are linked to a shady institution called The Ark where those suffering from dementia are used to test new drugs combating Alzheimers; unfortunately these seem to do more damage than good.
Oglesby hops from issue to issue like a small child on a sugar high. The play is not short of things to think about, but theyre muddied together, they come in a rush: genetic testing, the right to die when and as one chooses, mental and physical decay, the necessity of maintaining ones dignity and sense of self as one grows older, and the painful reality of watching someone you love cease to remember who you are and who they are. These are all touched upon but none are really explored in any depth and Oglesby seems content simply to skim the surface. The play at times feels as if its been written to meet a particular brief.
Despite the strong, raw performances of Judy Parfitt, as the slowly fragmenting Lyn, and Marcia Warren as her sister Daisy, sweetly optimistic in the face of her own physical deterioration , its difficult to care overly about what happens to these characters. This is partly down to an uncertainness of tone. Anna Mckims production is convinced that its a comedy and is played that way even when the material doesnt quite comply. This becomes increasingly apparent in the unsettling but overegged Orton-esque dystopian denouement in the Arc where the elements of farce seem utterly at odds with the supposedly emotive scenes between mother and daughter.
The most striking aspect of the production, by some considerable margin, is Mimi, the robot nurse played by Michela Meazza. Dressed in most mens fantasy idea of a nurses uniform, complete with high heels, she has been designed as the ultimate patients companion, midway between cat and carer (she purrs when stroked). Meazzas perfectly timed performance is quite wonderful. With her stiff jerky movement and eerie crimson grin, shes the highlight of every scene shes in, but her presence ends up a distraction, undercutting any subtlety that the director might have been aiming for.
Theres something good at the heart of this play – in the way it attempts to underline the fact that old people are just people whove gotten older, not a problem in need of a solution, and to question the lack of care in the care industry but while theres evidence of an imaginative mind at work, it gets tangled up in itself, tied in impossible knots.