Brighton Fringe 2008
Encore Theatre Company
Venue: Pavilion Theatre
This short play, devised to launch the ‘Celebrating Age 2008’ festival, dedicated to older people, was developed through a group of theatre people, all over sixty, who met to make a play about the challenges of getting older. The group started by improvising scenes and as the basis of a play emerged; these were crafted into an insightful and witty script by Brian Clark, (‘Whose Life is it Anyway?’). This process has been recorded on film and the documentary that resulted will be screened at the Pavilion Theatre on the 9th of November as part of the festival.
Above the stage, across which a few tables and chairs are scattered, in preparation for some unknown event, hangs a large photographic portrait of a sober, suave, elderly gentleman. This is George; husband, lover, partner, brother, uncle, employer and finally patient. George has died; struck down in a park by some fatal disease, so we believe, and his family, friends, business partners and some skeletons from his past congregate at his wake to pick over the bones of his life.
We never meet George on stage, though what he meant to the people around him is illustrated by the constantly changing photographic image of his portrait, as those who have survived him deliver their final thoughts and show us the man they thought they knew. This is an interesting device, though sometimes awkwardly executed, via which we are treated to images of George as professional, as friend; saint, charmer, seducer, pornographer, cheat.
Through a series of internal monologues, private conversations and public speeches George’s life and multi faceted personality is revealed and the audience come to understand, not only what secrets and lies his life contained but, how these shaped and molded the lives of those around him.
From the scenes that these actors started out improvising and the characters they have developed, Brian Clark has managed to skillfully construct a piece that incorporates the actors very wide ranging abilities, from the broadly comic to the naturalistic. As a director, however, he needs to bring all the performances together to ensure the play is a complete and coherent whole and to avoid the uneven and false notes that are sometimes struck. The dialogue is genuinely witty and crisp, and as the disappointments, failures and accusations of the characters are revealed, moving and deeply honest.
In the programme notes the writer, comments that “Growing old is not just about getting less physically active, it is about using the experience and wisdom accumulated over a lifetime”. What this play also demonstrates is that you are never too old for love, never too old to make mistakes and definitely never too old to take risks.