Vanishing Point’s production of Tomorrow, is part of a cornucopia of exciting new work being hosted by the Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Both conceived and directed by Matthew Lenton, it explores dementia and how we perceive and are perceived in old age.
Rubber masks are used to transmogrify the characters from their younger to their older selves: a device which is both simple and ingenious. These ‘masks of age’ conceal the identity of the person beneath them, the mask presenting a deviant version of their true self. Once donned, this mask changes how the wearers are treated by others, and to an extent, how they view themselves.
At the beginning of the play, we see George (Samuel Keefe) compelled both to pull on his mask and change his clothes, forced to comply with the expectations of age. Old age is, as it were, imposed upon him by external forces, swiftly and without explanation. It is not something he can control.
George joins others in a care home for the elderly, and it becomes clear that not only are its residents old, but they are also suffering from dementia, trapped behind their masks in their ‘second childishness’. What unfolds is a subtle look at how we deal with dementia, and the concomitant cognitive decline: difficulty in thinking, short term memory loss, and a long term memory that may come and go in disturbing flashes or loops.
With its sensitive and sometimes very funny text by Pamela Carter, this is in many ways an understated yet nevertheless a very effective production. Every aspect of it has been carefully thought out, and the acting is natural and unforced. It is often disturbing to watch, however, and unfortunately cannot offer any real answers.