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Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Keeping up with the Joans

Greenwich Theatre and Patrick Wilde

Genre: Drama

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard


Low Down

 A gentle comedy about failing memory, friendship and mimicking martyrs. Former stars (played by  Susan Penhaligon and Katy Manning) of local Amdram company, the Half Moon,  bicker about their differences as sinister care worker Gary insists they face the past and answer the question – who did play the greatest Saint Joan of all?


The setting is Rye Hill retirement home where Zillah Mint (Susan Penhaligon) does not want the breakfast that kind, if a rather patronising, care worker Gary (Arron Usher) insists is good for her cholesterol. Gradually we learn that she was once the star of the local amateur dramatic company famous for playing Joan in Saint Joan by Shaw. So successful was the production that they put it on every year, although the part was also played by Zillah’s rival, Kitty, now a new fellow resident at Rye Hill. Gary is determined that they will attend the Half Moon’s coming centenary on Saturday and remember which of them was playing Joan the famous night that Dame Peggy Ashcroft came. The story centres around working out what did happen that night and eventually rebuilding their damaged friendship.

The set is the dining cum sitting room of Rye Hill – a slightly down at heel and impoverished establishment which contributes to the overall sadness of the piece. The empty tables give a sense of there being other residents but slightly less furniture would have given the actors a little more room.

Susan Penhaligon gives us a bittersweet Zillah  – the frustration of knowing that she is forgetting things, that she is becoming frail combined with a razor sharp wit to help deal with it is both laugh out loud and sad. Katy Manning’s Kitty is a wonderful ageing glamour puss, furious with her daughter for ‘putting me here’ (and selling her house) but determined to upstage Zillah.

The script is often wordy but also provides plenty of sharp and witty lines and brings home some of the realities of ageing, dementia and memory loss.  At the same time nearly all the story elements – centering on that night that Dame Peggy Ashcroft came– occur off stage so the actors have a difficult task as they have to hold the audience by talking about those events rather than showing them.

The play concludes with a nice twist and reconciliation. If you enjoyed the recent film, Quartet, then this apparently gentle drama with a bite is an ideal early afternoon choice.