Theatre in Wales

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Fascinating work - totally engaging

At the Sherman

Sherman Cymru- the Almond and the Seahorse , Sherman Cymru , March 9, 2008
At the Sherman by Sherman Cymru- the Almond and the Seahorse Copies of Kaite OíReillyís play are available for sale at Sherman Cymru and I highly recommend buying a copy.

After watching this intelligent work I went to supper with my partner and in the course of the meal found myself flicking through the pages and quoting at least three passages from the play in salient parts of the conversation.

The play is about two couples whose lives are frankly destroyed because of one half of each couple having brain damage and losing their parts of their memory.

But it is full of other observations on the nature of life, of relationships, of change, of aging which transcend the specific situation our characters are forced into because of a car accident and through a brain tumour.

It is also worth having the script because of one of the downsides of the play which is the fact that it is a slightly difficult balance of realistic dialogue and interactions with rather artificial, poetic discourses, references and analogies that are slightly too clever for spontaneous everyday conversations. They read better on the page than they sound when supposedly part of a spontaneous conversation.

There is also a little lack of subtlety. Yes, there is of course irony in the character whose partner is slipping further and further into the past as his memory is decaying being an archeologist. But we donít really need to be told it is ironic and then explain the irony.

Similarly the reflection on the nature of get well tokens sent to ill people ranging from Indian gods to beanie dolls is a little over explained.

But this is a reflection on the depth of the content of the play which also has flashes of brilliance. The phone conversation between a baffled Joe, played by Celyn Jones, is called by a lady in India who he canít remember knowing and who asks him about his electricity supplier is brilliant. That whole scene, when he keeps taking cigarettes out of a packet having instantly forgotten he just did the same thing, was superbly crafted.

The relation between Gwennan , played by Olwen Rees, and Tom, played by Ian Saynor , was extremely, moving. Gwennan has lost all memory since a car crash when she was a young woman and every morning is Groundhog Day when she looks in the mirror and is freaked out by the 50 year old woman looking back at her. She does not know who the similarly greying man her husband has become who keeps trying to talk to her.

In desperation Tom, who has been her carer for 20 years, encounters Joeís wife Sarah, played by Nia Gwynne , both being in need of comfort and some respite in each others company.

All the way through we have the neuropsychologist Dr Ife Falmer played by Mojisola Adebayo who discusses the illnesses, the behaviour of the patients, and tries to reach out and help the partners.

Two narrative devices are adopted for the doctor with varying success. One is the doctor talking to the audience on the nature of memory, its fragility etc and the other is, Sex in the City style, typing observations into her laptop with key words being illuminated across the set. Both interesting if at times a little unsubtle when it turns out the good doctor has issues herself with memory loss in the family.

The use of mobile phone calls and recorded messages work extremely effectively as dramatic devices but also to touch on the nature of communication, storing memory in the form of audio messages, time shifts and perceptions.

In all a fascinating work, totally engaging and a text worth delving into again and again. The cast is faultless, impeccable performances, completely sympathetically given and true.

The Almond and The Seahorse are, by the way, parts of the brain associated with memory.

Sherman Cymru until March 15 then touring to Theatr Brecheiniog, Brecon, April 2; Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold, April 4, 5; Aberystwyth Arts Centre, April 8 and Contact Theatre, Manchester, April 11 and 12.

Reviewed by: Mike Smith

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