Pros: A strong script and stellar performances make this a fantastic night out at the theatre, away from the hubbub of the West End.
Cons: Some poor sight-lines.
The Bush Theatre has to be one of the most charming off West End venues in London, with its cosy library café and intimate but spacious black box. The inviting structure, plus the theatre’s successful string of new writing productions over the past several years, make it a true gem for anyone looking for a low-key evening enjoying excellent theatre.
Visitors is a strong piece of writing coupled with a detailed and functional set and an outstanding cast. The emotional but never melodramatic script surrounds Edie, an aging wife and mother descending into dementia. The deep love between Edie and husband Arthur sees the two trying to keep Edie at home as long as possible, while her 30-something son Stephen tries to make practical arrangements for her care; even if this means putting her into a care facility where Arthur can’t follow.
The play opens upon Edie and Arthur’s last moments spent alone together in their home, before a compromise between themselves and Stephen arrives in the form of Kate: a young law graduate who’s been travelling and picking up odd jobs after leaving university. Kind and enthusiastic, Kate seems a blessing to the family. But the future presses on, Edie’s health deteriorates, and all four characters must face the fact that life keeps moving, whether or not they’re ready for it.
Visitors is an exquisite script that does more than depict the struggle of ageing and the tragedy of losing a loved one’s mind while their body remains. Linda Basset as Edie portrays this experience with incredible skill, weaving together a perfect and believable blend of tenderness, fear and humour into the matriarchal figure. While Edie’s struggle with her prognosis is touching and engaging enough on its own, what it so beautiful about the play is the way it examines not only the experience and fear of growing old, but through Kate and Stephen it grants equal empathy to the experience youth, and the somewhere in between.
Bassett is supported by a strong cast who deserve high praise for bringing the script and its concerns to life. As Arthur, Robin Soans is both Edie’s reliable and lovestruck lifelong partner and Stephen’s distant father. Balancing these qualities and creating a persona real to both characters and believable to an audience was a feat at which Soans excelled.
Simon Muller as Stephen has perhaps the hardest job in making the middle-aged, middle-class insurance man with a brewing midlife crisis a character deserving of sympathy and understanding. Muller performs with gusto, offering Stephen’s best and worst to the audience for judgment. Eleanor Wyld rounds out the play as Kate, bringing a grounded, truly lovable quality to a character that might have become a waifish fantasy in the wrong hands. Wyld sees Kate clearly in Barney Norris’s script, and brings her to the stage with vigour.
The set is a detailed creation of Edie and Arthur’s living room in their farm house on Salisbury Plain. A bit musty, but certainly homey, the scene is rich with the flavour of memories, but has an air of unkemptness appropriate to Edie and Arthur’s situation. The thrust stage has the audience sitting round three sides, and at times one actor’s back to the audience could block the entire action – but even then the show remained compelling.
In all, Visitors is a poignant and rich work that examines generational crossroads, considers the fear of dying alongside the fear of living, making beautiful theatre in the process.
Author: Barney Norris
Director: Alice Hamilton
Producer: Up In Arms
Booking Until: 10 January 2015
Box Office: 020 8743 5050
Booking Link: https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/visitors/?gclid=CPaPooSMqMICFezHtAodnw8A_Q