Brighton Fringe 2017
A masterful and brilliantly executed piece, this show pulls on our heartstrings as it takes us from tears of sadness to joyous laughter as we observe the tragi-comedy of old age.
Described as a ‘slapstick comedy about hanging on, dying and grieving played at 33rpm with two ancient insect types’, actors David Woods and Jon Haynes portray a tragic yet farcical depiction of old age.
The characters are finely observed, with great attention to detail. Patricia, an elderly female character, wears fine jewellery, but as her spine is held at a 45-degree angle to the floor, her necklaces swing pendulously back and forth as she moves. The male characters frequently have their flies undone, and drool and spittle make a frequent appearance – amongst other signifiers of old age that we sometimes find uncomfortable to acknowledge. The show pulls no punches in showing us what old age is like – there were some very uncomfortable and shocking moments, some of which simultaneously had the children in the audience crying with hysterical laughter and the adults crying with sadness and grief.
The pace of the show is challengingly slow – which is exactly how many people feel when they are around the elderly. Movement, thought and action take an eternity, but in this show the elderly are never patronised. Sometimes we are unclear about the identity of the characters – but that makes us aware of the confusion that the elderly feel when faced with new people.
At one point some fast piano music is played and there is a contagion of neuroses as each of the characters falls into their own pattern of touching their faces and other physical tics -which is very funny, but of course also uncomfortable for us to watch, as it plays with our sense of what is cruel and what subject matter is ‘acceptable’ to make fun of.
The show also portrays the disinhibition of the elderly as the subject of lust is explored – challenging societal taboos around sexuality and the elderly and raising quite a few eyebrows in the audience!
There is a long drawn-out sequence addressing memory issues around the taking of pills – again, hilarious but also we are not sure if we should be laughing as it feels wrong to do so – but the administration of medication also a scenario that is sadly an everyday experience for almost all of the elderly and those taking care of them.
All this contempt and hatred, anger and lust is explored with hardly any dialogue. The actors mutter and some words come through – a letter containing messages of condolence taken from Facebook posts following a bereavement is read out, with only some words audible, which highlights the meaninglessness and emotional emptiness of social media in this context.
One character crushes another and squashes and contorts his face, who then seems to literally disappear into his suit – is it a murder? Or a metaphor? We are not sure…
A real highlight of the show was the singing of a Gaelic lament – first we heard a recorded version, a beautiful recording of Bríd Iarnáin (Mrs Bridget Mullen), one of the last keeners of Aran (keeners were women who were paid to weep and sing laments at funerals, a tradition which goes back thousands of years). Then the song was taken up by one of the characters, a man played by a third actor, Rupert Jones, who had been crying inconsolably – this had many audience members in tears.
There was a quiet intensity to the show – although farcical it was not silly, and was almost Pinteresque in places, with random comments and non-specific characters.
All in all the show kept us in a state of simultaneous sadness and joy, a bittersweet reminder of how life (and death) really is. It was a masterful and brilliantly executed piece. Everyone should see this.