Written and directed by David J. Evans
Pros: An interesting approach to the very difficult subject of succumbing to dementia. Funny at times and moving at others. Enjoyable elements of Welsh culture and some very good acting.
Cons: Slightly static direction with lengthy dialogue and lack of movement on stage. Mamgu was a tad too youthful for her age, detracting from an otherwise well written play.
Our Verdict: An enjoyable play about the terrible reality of a dementia sufferer. A play with the ability to move you, whilst keeping light-hearted with some farcical old timer interaction.
|Courtesy of White Desert Production|
White Desert’s latest production, Tea with Mamgu was bound to be an interesting night out from the outset, if for no other reason than because it gave me the chance to visit the London Welsh Centre. The venue, currently boasting White Desert as its Resident Theatre Company, is a fine example of community centre come theatre complete with a sports bar, giving you the feeling the rugby must be about to start any time soon. Once welcomed into the auditorium, you must find your way through tables of chatty patrons. Once seated, you notice the stage is cluttered with boxes. As it turns out, Jinny the Mamgu (pronounced Mamgi) , played by Elizabeth Hastings, is the granny who has begun to lose her wits and is therefore in the process of being moved into a home. As her nephew Dylan (Chris Walters) tries to help the movers, she tampers with the boxes not really knowing what all the fuss is about.
From then on, it’s almost one long, uninterrupted tea drinking session. We follow Mamgu and her waning ability to understand the present, launching instead into a past made of love, friendships and entertaining incidents. Sheri and Cynthia, her two life-long friends, reminisce along with her about many things, including her falling in love with Dylan’s grandfather at the local cafe. Just as you might expect from a group of elderly women, there’s plenty of tea and plenty of conversation! The three friends can chat for – well, Wales! Their friendship is the backbone of this play, around which the storyline evolves, shifting from past to present and back again to the old days. The interaction is enjoyable to watch and at times can be quite funny and yet the show is all but a comedy. The real soul of this play is the untold drama of the mental decline and ageing of Mamgu, often lost in her ability to capture what is going on, and the devotion of her nephew to keep her out of harms way.
The relatively young cast do a surprisingly good job playing characters so clearly much older than themselves. Elizabeth Hastings is the clear talent in the show. Despite her actual age, she interprets an eighty year old character with commendable courage. Her lost-looking face and pun “I am waiting for my friends, I am” are a sure heart warmer and she has an impressive ability to create pathos for her character. However I personally felt that the vitality in Mamgu’s movements and youthful spark exuded detracts slightly from the overall believability and at times seems out of sync with the character. Chris Walters was a real joy to watch too, in both his incarnations, as he alternated between the charmingly goofy Dylan senior and sweet and moving Dylan junior. Both Cery Wyn and Emily Wilden do well to support the protagonist in their respective roles as the sophisticated woman of the trio and the staunch, witty union leader.
This play is a bold attempt at capturing that moment in life when dementia kicks in and past and present come together in one confused stream of events. The sadness of it all is compounded by the often farcical circumstances that come out of misunderstandings and misremembered information and the play certainly does have a healthy dose of light-hearted fun in it. Sadly, the long chat over tea was a tad too static for my liking and I was left with the impression that some of the dialogue could have been cut shorter without taking away from the overall experience of the script. However, the play does flow nicely enough overall. Inevitably, some references to Welsh life passed over me entirely but they nevertheless made many in the audience clap and laugh. I did get the one on Tom Jones though! All in all, I’d say well done to White Desert for a bold effort on a very difficult subject.
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Tea with Mamgu ran at London Welsh Centre on 26th April 2013 and will be releasing tour dates soon. For more details visit