@ Sloan’s Bar and Restaurant, Glasgow, until Thu 2 Jun 2016
(part of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s On The Verge Festival)
Societal concern about Alzheimer’s and other illness associated with dementia has been reflected across stages in recent years, so much so that you could be forgiven for feeling a little over-saturated in images of elderly legs, slippers and a fluffy carpet. Tom England’s The Days in the Hours silences such doubts, confirming in a little over twenty-five minutes that there are many angles to this illness left to explore on-stage.
England’s remarkable self-awareness is what makes his script, a story of a wife’s onset of dementia and her husband’s struggles to cope, so effective. Øystein Kanestrøm plays the grandson to the elderly couple who regularly comes and goes, appearing one moment and gone the next, moving about busily and trying to be as helpful as possible. England writes a character that we find both hugely relatable and hugely irritating, who desires to fix rather than to adapt. Watching Kanestrøm’s interventions, it is difficult not to wince, and recognise your own failure to properly grasp the scale of loss felt by those afflicted by dementia.
Jessica Brindle delivers a nuanced performance, growing older before our eyes without descending into parody. Her back curves a little, her gait slows but maintains energy, and in moments of confusion an expression spreads across her face that dismantles barriers rather than erects them. We feel confused with her, and are made to empathise rather than sympathise. To watch her is to feel heart-break, to feel confused, alienated and at odds with the world. To feel what it might feel like to lose your memories.
Punctuating the present day are Brindle’s memories of her husband (played with grace and a quiet anguish by Laurence Pybus). Transitions between flashbacks and the present are well handled, delicately shifting, mirroring the fluid state of Brindle’s mind. The memories presented are, however, in contrast to the present, more grounded in cliché. The couple’s meet-cute on a train would not be out of place in a Richard Curtis film, which is praise or damnation depending on your taste. In the context of this work, the scenes effectively hit their emotional targets, yet fail to draw any particular depth to their characters, undercutting the ultimate emotional impact of the play’s closing scenes. Nevertheless, The Days in the Hours is a very effective piece of writing, marking Tom England as a writer with enough self-awareness to make fresh paths across well-trodden ground.