Pros: A relatable and sympathetic portrayal of what it’s like to have a loved one with memory loss.
Cons: A static, repetitive script, and the youthful cast struggled to convincingly portray the physicality of old age.
The thing about seeing theatre is, sometimes it really is just down to a matter of taste. The current production of Tea With Mamgu at the London Welsh Centre is a good example, as, at least in my viewing, it elicited a wide range of responses. Two people at my table slipped out at the interval after a whispered discussion of the merits of the show. Other members of the audience made sympathetic noises and laughed in all the right places, so clearly the show speaks to some more than others.
Things started out well enough; The Welsh Centre is a sweet, down-home sort of venue with a fantastic and very friendly bar upstairs and signs for everything in Welsh and in English. (Theatre, beer, AND learning! Always a good combination.) The play itself is also a very warm tribute to a rich life well-lived, full of love and friendship. The actors (Amber Rose Summers, Laura Dean, Louisa Lowe, and Sion Emyr) were particularly strong in the comic moments. Titular character Mamgu/Jinny (Summers) and her grandson Dylan (Emyr) also had some touching exchanges with strong emotional range as Mamgu grew ever more confused about where she was and who she was speaking to, jumping through warmth, terrified confusion, scorn, mourning, and around again, all in the space of a few seconds. Just to keep things exciting, Emyr also played his own grandpa, who happens to be his namesake. There was some tense and tragic interplay as Jinny grows confused over which Dylan she’s speaking to. As someone who’s watched several beloved relatives struggle with memory loss, the interaction between Mamgu and Dylan rang very true for me.
In other ways, the show didn’t stand up so well in its portrayal of the elderly. I spent the first half wondering why this show about aging had us watching a coterie of youths in rather unfortunate wigs. The second half included nostalgic scenes from the girlhood of the three elderly friends, thus the reason for the young cast. Unfortunately, the flashback choice makes the script rather redundant. Every part of the reminiscence scenes in the second half was already mentioned in the protracted tea-drinking session before the interval: meeting their husbands, youthful indiscretions, and entrenched political leanings that haven’t changed in sixty years. If there are any new lessons to be gained from the shift in point of view, I’m not sure what they are.
The physicality of elderly movement was also undermined by the youthful vitality of the cast at times. Clearly some thought was put into that aspect of the production but it wasn’t consistent throughout which detracted from the overall suspension of disbelief.
With subject matter so close to the heart of many people, and an engaging cast who really do shine in places, Tea with Mamgu will appeal to many. But, in the end, it just wasn’t my cuppa.
Author: David Evans
Director: David Evans
Producer: Tigz Theatre
Booking until: This production was a one-time only event.