Plaques And Tangles

Published October 21, 2015

What’s it all about?

A popular topic in today’s Theatreland, this is another tale of the heartbreak and destruction caused by dementia.

While Florian Zeller’s The Father, which is currently playing at the Wyndham’s Theatre, sees an elderly man losing control of his mind, Nicola Wilson’s Royal Court debut Plaques And Tangles features a woman – aged between 21 and 48, and played by two different actresses during the production – with early onset Alzheimer’s.

The disease is hereditary. Megan’s mother had it. Megan had a 50:50 chance of inheriting it. And so do her children.

Plaques And Tangles – the accumulation of proteins responsible for cell death and tissue loss in the brain, if you’re interested? – follows Megan in different stages of her life as her mind gradually begins to disintegrate and her young family is left unable to pick up the pieces.

Who’s in it?

Monica Dolan, last seen on the Royal Court’s stage in The Twits, returns in a role warranting a whole lot more audience empathy than her despicable Roald Dahl character. Here she’s a woman tortured by her own mind, regressing into a child-like state as she becomes unable to remember simple things. Her performance is simply captivating.

Robert Lonsdale, best known for leading 2013 musical From Here To Eternity, delivers his lines with a subtle wit in the role of Young Jez, a man Megan meets on her hen do and ends up becoming her husband, a role played just as brilliantly by Ferdy Roberts.

Rosalind Eleazar is compelling as Young Megan, an aspiring lexicographer whose performance makes the deterioration of Dolan’s Megan all the more harrowing, while Alice Felgate and Ted Reilly capture all the normal teenage angst – and then some – of Megan’s children as they struggle to cope with her behaviour.

Bríd Brennan and Vanessa Babirye complete the cast in dual roles, including the former as Megan’s dead mother Eva.

What should I look for?

The horrific moment when Megan turns on her daughter. It’s terrifying, upsetting and involves faeces.

The shocking twists – created by the play’s clever shifts in time – that leave you broken and speechless.

In a nutshell?

Monica Dolan’s performance packs a poignant and painful punch in this powerful Royal Court debut by Nicola Wilson.

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

I find myself saying this a lot these days but, again, this is not happy watching. While what you’re witnessing is undoubtedly an incredible piece of theatre – fascinatingly informative and beautifully imagined – you find yourself enjoying it at the same time as struggling to keep the tears from forming. Whether this disease is made to look all the more horrific in the body of a younger woman or whether Wilson’s compelling script and the cast’s incredible performances are what makes it so heartbreaking, you certainly won’t be skipping out of the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs; you may not even crack a smile until you’re more than half way home.

Plaques And Tangles is playing at the Royal Court until 21 November. You can book tickets through the venue’s website.

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