Edinburgh Fringe 2018
And Before I Forget That I Love, I Love You is an extraordinary journey through not only the experience of observing, caring and losing a loved one to dementia but of facing it oneself. Based on his personal experience of seeing his mother deteriorate and die with Alzheimer’s and on intensive research, Pip Utton’s character takes the audience with him on a journey full of smiles, laughter, respect and tears.
We enter to the classic French hit of 1946, La Mer sung by Charles Trenet. An elderly, slightly nervous, anxious man waits for us to sit down and settle, clutching his notes and fidgeting with his glasses. Once we are settled he welcomes us, he is so glad we have come to help say farewell to his beloved Chrissie, his wife of over 50 years. The vicar has suggested writing it all down and he has – but it isn’t capturing her, it isn’t working so he gives up and goes off script as he attempts share some of their life together.
It is a very emotional start, which hits us in the gut, you could have heard a pin drop from the moment Pip Utton began his portrayal of Michael. His performance so naturalistic and genuine that I, for one, felt as though I really had known Chrissie, that there really would be sandwiches and tea, so kindly prepared by Ivor’s son John and his family and waiting in the next room. The speech is warm and anecdotal, starting with a prepared speech but going off script at just the right moment, giving enough to introduce her (Chrissie), to paint a picture of her.
It is a significant departure for Pip Utton who is well known for exploring and playing well known historical characters (Dickens, Hitler, Thatcher and Churchill and more). In ‘And Before I Forget That I Love, I Love You’ he takes on Dementia, a subject rather than a figure, and one with personal resonance. The result is an incredibly powerful piece of theatre, there’s no hiding behind a polished telling of the story, no degree of detachment from the subject, this one reveals all the vulnerability of the actor within the character.
The story draws on Utton’s own experience of dementia in his family as well as research with others. The writing is light, deft and nuanced but no less hard hitting and powerful for that. Utton creates a wealth of imagery with word pictures and stories, tiny details that give a sense of the world for those living with Alzheimer’s. It is tempting to share some of them but better to go and see the show and hear them from Michael himself. He takes us on a journey through both the experience of caring for Chrissie and then facing dementia himself.
Utton is completely on top of the material, his performance subtle and hard hitting by turn, bringing humour and poignancy in equal measure.
There is no set, simply a couple of chairs, a side table and a bottle of whisky from which Utton creates a whole range of spaces and scenarios. Aside from the evocative music of Trenet there is some engagement with an off stage voice, a device that often breaks the spell in a solo show but on this occasion works as Michael faces his own deteriorating health. We, the audience, are drawn in not only as observers but as participants at key moments of Michael’s journey.
It is a challenging, thought-provoking piece that presents and explores a very difficult subject; however, Utton doesn’t end on a note of despair but with a life affirming look forward that celebrates life.