There’s something pleasingly topsy-turvy about opening a young writers’ festival with a play about 60 year olds. Of course it could also set a few alarm bells ringing; there’s nothing quite like a young writer holding forth about something he doesn’t know to get your hackles up. But, as you would expect from the Royal Court, Luke Norris’s play avoids this admirably and the result is a tight, tragic drama about the disintegration of a family.
Frank (Roger Sloman) and Iris (Susan Brown) have been married for 40 years, but when their grandson David (Alexander Cobb) discovers Frank’s been having an affair with Rita (Linda Marlowe) for years, Frank decides its time to do what he should have done a long time ago. But just as he begins to unpick his life with Iris, his health rapidly deteriorates and he’s left bedbound.
Norris tells his story with economic clarity and we charge through the first half in a series of snapshot scenes that see a stagnant marriage quickly destabilise into a mess of hurt and possessive jealousy. The second half takes a more languorous pace as Frank is hospitalised and David – in an attempt to get better care for Frank – invites the well-off Rita back into their lives, something Iris will do anything to stop.
Given Iris’s extreme actions it would be easy to see her as the vitriolic harridan who wants nothing more than to inflict hurt on her husband. But Norris’s script and Brown’s performance find a much greater depth than that. Iris’s marriage may not have had love, it may have caused her pain, but it did still have meaning for her and it’s this that she battles to protect, despite the hurt it requires to do so. In the end it’s tragic to watch as she stakes everything on the value of her marriage rather than the relationship that comprised it.
While Brown is well supported by Sloman’s repressed Frank and Tom Piper’s suggestively simple set, it is the actress’s beautifully textured performance that really roots the piece.