Tim Price’s new play about the horrors of old age makes for a touching but undeniably bleak evening at Trafalgar Studio 2.
It is the fear that everyone faces: a slow disintegration of one’s mental faculties, until no memory remains of the people you love. This is the prospect faced by the elderly Iola, who lives in North Wales with her sister Anest, who has vowed to take care of Iola to the end. But they are both hoping to make that end come sooner than nature would allow. With her last days approaching, Iola sends a final letter to her niece – Anest’s daughter – Menna, who comes home to Pembrokeshire to save her aunt from assisted suicide at the hands of her mother.
These are issues that are difficult to face – and difficult to play – but a strong quartet of actors makes them, if not easy to watch, then bearable. Anna Calder-Marshall adroitly captures the spectrum of Iola’s dementia and the emotions it provokes both in the sufferer and those who witness her suffering: from humour, when she drowns a mobile phone in the teapot; to sadness, when she mutters to herself and forgets her sister’s name; to anguish, when she lashes out in befuddled anger, hurting the ones she loves.
Anna Carteret, as Anest, is stoic in the face of her sister’s inevitable downfall, and gruffly stubborn against her daughter’s protestations that she need not tie her own fate to her sister’s. Playing someone who is new to the situation, Imogen Stubbs depicts Menna’s confusion over how to act towards Iola, and the desperate hope we all latch on to rather than face the inevitable loss of a loved one. Completing the quartet, Roger Evans, as local policeman and Menna’s old friend Gareth, is the voice of reason.
The first play in the second Donmar Trafalgar season which showcases the work of the Donmar Warehouse’s Resident Assistant Director graduates, Salt, Root And Roe shows Hamish Pirie to be a sensitive director with a delicate touch. Chloe Lamford’s design and Alex Baranowski’s sound fill the small stage with the sights and sounds of the North Wales coast, which has been home to Iola and Anest for so long and will now help ease them on their way.