Society: University of Kent Players
Show: Bothered and Bewildered
Venue: Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury
Director: Sophie Packer
This has to be one of the most poignant plays I have seen in a long while. We all have heard stories about living with Alzheimer’s, this play puts it front and centre in our consciousness. Billed as a comic drama, it follows Irene and her daughters coming to terms with her Alzheimer’s. As they lose their Mum in spirit but not in body, Irene’s past passion for romantic fiction blurs with reality and with the help of her unseen and witty companion the late Barbara Cartland, she writes her memory book, sharing the secrets she never revealed to her daughters.
It was clear from the simple, stark yet functional set that this was going to be a poignant ride but what struck me most forcibly, however, was the extent to which this production ably lived up to its billing as a ‘comic drama’. Most notably, Irene’s violent refusal of her long-suffering daughter’s offer of spoon fed scrambled egg was heart-breaking and yet somehow mirrored her slapstick one-liner about her lost ‘sexual energy’ which followed. The presence, in Irene’s imagination, of her long-time idol, romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, clad in characteristic pink, similarly provided some laugh out loud moments.
Chloe Gallien as Irene, the Mother and Alzheimer sufferer captured perfectly her fear, confusion and in some instances the simple pleasure of not knowing what pain your family are experiencing while you are living in your version of the world. I felt her anxiety, particularly when reliving her past with her adopted son and secret love. This was a captivating performance.
Irene’s daughters played by Kayleigh Flaxman as Louise and Sarah Cooke as Beth gave quite contrasting performances with their different viewpoints on their mother’s situation which really added to the overall story. Sarah gave the appearance of being the tougher of the two sisters but when the dam did eventually break we felt her distress at the loss of her mother to this cruel disease. This was a very real and true to life performance. Kayleigh as Louise, who is faced with having her mother move in to “the terrible hotel” showed us the child within the adult, longing to have her mother and father back and struggling to cope with the situation she finds herself in. Kayleigh is an amazingly natural actor who is capable of peeling back so many layers of a character in the simplest ways. Both were moving performances.
Another natural performer is Annaleah Fruin who took on the roles of young Irene and Shelley. Along with David Atkins as Jim and James these actors taking on dual roles helped bring about the sense that for Irene, and in life in general, the echoes of the past stay with us even when we think they are lost. They both showed a difference between their characterisations and had excellent diction.
Zarina Hawkins as Barbara Cartland gave a dignified and humorous performance bringing so much light relief to what could be otherwise quite a traumatic evening in the theatre. She has a great stage presence and gave a very confident delivery – I thoroughly enjoyed her portrayal.
Completing the small but emotionally energetic cast was Neil Hornsey, the solid voice of reason who as both GP and police officer and Marie-Jeanne Royer as the consultant who provides a shoulder to cry on for both of Irene’s girls. Their calming presence throughout this production gave just the right level of ‘normality’ to contrast against all the emotions on display.
The theatre was used to dramatic effect in a desperate night time hunt for a bewildered Irene and lighting was effective especially when used to highlight her daughters’ exasperated and futile calls to potential care homes, as the inevitable future has to be faced. Sound effects and music too, combined with strong performances to allow the audience to glimpse the world as Irene increasingly sees it.
This play is a dramatic and emotional piece but it has just the right amount of humour in it to make it a very special piece of theatre. It resounds with you on so many levels and was really well executed. This production was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and the particular group seem to grow from strength to strength. I look forward to your next offering.
Review by: Cheryl Mumford District 6 Representative