Brighton Festival 2014
This new work from Vanishing Point explores what it is to grow old and be cared for, in a world where myth and spirituality have been subsumed by what we all know to be true – that we are born, we live and we die.
With our population living longer and longer, worries about pension funds having to sustain people into their 90s, and the levels of dementia in the elderly, Tomorrow felt like a timely and hard-hitting piece of theatre. Essentially it was a fairly naturalistic portrait of life in a care home, with it’s cast of silent, delusional and immobile residents. The cast were mixed in age, with actors from their 20s to 60s onstage, and they became their elderly counterparts by donning latex masks which covered their entire heads, which were extremely effective at turning a fresh-faced boy into a shuffling old man.
It was this element of the show that I found most powerful. We see a young man rushing to hospital as his wife is in labour; anxious, hopeful, fit. Then when he arrives a nurse sits him down, presents him with his old-man face, and two orderlies proceed to manhandle him into his prison of old-age, rendering him patronised, silent and confused. As someone with a grandmother currently in a dementia care-home, this was all very close to the bone. When you visit the place it is impossible not to think of the lives that were, the things achieved by people who now sit there with crabbed hands and filmy eyes, who now need caring for like babies. It was this sense of loss that Vanishing Point managed to convey so well.
However, despite feeling profoundly moved by aspects of the show, my overwhelming sense of the piece was that they could have done so much more with it. The first twenty minutes of the performance were very slow, with an overly long opening sequence that didn’t get things off to a good start. The overriding style of the piece was a naturalistic representation of a care home, which certainly had its insights. However, for something as confusing as old age and as variable as dementia I feel that Vanishing Point missed some of the theatrical potential there could be to represent this. They did attempt this in part, with a sequence involving torches in darkness, illuminating flashes of memory, and another scene where the residents attempted a failed escape attempt, but these elements felt a little tagged on and I think it would have been better to repeat and build upon these surreal moments to give a more unified sense to the show.
Overall I believe the piece had value in painting a true picture of the realities of the elderly, without being overly sentimental, and it did well to depict the sense of loss, fear and helplessness felt by older people in care homes and those living with dementia. It is a problem we are all likely to face or are facing with our own parents, and I left the theatre with a sense of this great societal burden and depth of sadness that old age can bring.