Pros: An original drama that is anything but predictable.
Cons: A play that features Alzheimer’s may not be to everyone’s taste.
A Wedding Story. Sounds like a Richard Curtis film perhaps or the sequel to a Willy Russell play. The wedding event, however, is how we are introduced to the last thing you expect to talk about in the same sentence – Alzheimer’s disease. Told through the eyes of Sally, and to a lesser degree her father Peter, we are introduced to Evelyn, a former physician, whose moments of lucidity are doctored (no pun intended) by spats of amnesia.
While Peter is happily drinking at the reception, Sally has a tryst with another guest, Grace. Instead of being a one-off occurrence, Sally finds that not only is Grace interested in seeing her again, she also wants to make a go of the relationship. Sally, however, feels she’s not able to be fully emotionally available at present for Grace as she finds she’s helping Peter a lot with Evelyn, even though she lives far away from them. Her younger brother Robin is not at hand as he spends most of his time in California in the movie business. When he does turn up, he finds it hard to deal with and looks to his big sister to handle it.
What the play vividly shows is what life must be like for a spouse or offspring, whose partner/parent’s faculties are slipping away. Frustration, impotence, fear – every day is an uphill battle. I found myself thinking, how would I cope with a family member with Alzheimer’s? Probably not as well as I’d like to think, and much less if I was experiencing it first-hand. Alzheimer’s is a disease that over time robs a person of their past, identity, and eventually their dignity and health. I was reminded while watching A Wedding Story of a William Blake quote that was as used in Time and the Conways, “There’s a great devil in the universe and we call it Time.”
Special mention should be made to the ladies in the show; Rachel Dobell convincingly plays Evelyn as a haughty, erudite professional as well as a fearful, regressive woman in her senior years; Erika Sanderson’s on stage presence as Sally suffuses humour and pathos in every scene – the emotional fulcrum of the show; and Heidi-Karin Meldrum, who plays Grace, brought a lot of energy to a potentially sombre production.
One of the more unusual references that the show includes is footage and dialogue from the movie Casablanca. It’s meant to be Evelyn’s favourite film and dovetails into Robin’s preoccupation with movies. However, the subtext is really about memories, of being able to look back – hinted at by the song As Time Goes By. White banners that broke up the space on stage doubled as screens for the film footage. In addition, empty picture frames hung from the ceiling, as a reminder of the absence of memories. In addition to the wedding table and chairs, the overall aesthetic by set designer Kevin Jenkins was pleasing and interesting.
There is much to commend in A Wedding Story, as dementia is seldom the topic of choice in the theatre. We at Everything Theatre actually take a special interest in noticing how mental illness is portrayed in theatre, having published an opinion piece on the subject. Happily, Bryony Lavery’s script doesn’t resort to stereotypes and in spite of the serious subject matter, manages to instil a sense of hope when things are at their bleakest.
Author: Bryony Lavery
Director: Rosemary Hill
Producer: The Play’s The Thing Theatre Company
Designer: Kevin Jenkins
Lighting Designer: James Tearle
Booking Until: 2nd March 2014
Box Office: 020 7240 6283
Booking Info: http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/a_wedding_story.asp