Theatre in Wales

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New Audiences for Moving Dementia Double-Tale

Belonging

Re-Live Theatre Company , Torch Theatre , May-10-18
Belonging by Re-Live Theatre Company The biggest changes, the ones that matter, come into being unnoticed. Voting preference used to be under the sway of family influence and the sense of class identification. Those factors no longer predominate. Cancer was the most feared of illnesses, to the extent that the word itself was unmentionable. The two hundred diseases that come under the label are now treatable, if not curable. Dementia has taken their place as the leading cause of fear. It is exacerbated by the fact that so many children are experiencing it directly through parents, in-laws, grandparents. Theatre has a role of honour in tapping into our fears. The return tour of Re-live's award-winner from two years ago is just one of several on the subject to be seen in 2018.

“Belonging” follows shortly on the tour of “Y Tad”, Theatr Genedlaethol's version of French playwright Florian Zeller's play. “Y Tad”, a considerable hit in France and Britain, is narrower and more savage than Karin Diamond's play. “Belonging” is more discursive and synoptic, but also more optimistic. Zeller portrays dementia eviscerating relationships to almost the same extent as it does the mind. “Dementia”, says the author here, “can isolate us but “Belonging” shows us how we can continue to connect and support each other.” It is overt in its didactic purpose. “Re-Live Theatre Company”, runs a line of the publicity, “wants to take the message to a younger audience.”

Its didacticism is happily carried lightly and is secondary to qualities of theatricality. The script, running two stories in parallel, covers the gamut of social and psychological pressure points. One sibling, Karin Diamond's daughter Rhian, presses for medical advice for mother (Gillian Elisa). Brother Gareth (Sion Pritchard) offers hesitant platitude that it will all work out. Relationships with neighbour (Llion Williams' Mike) and the local Italian restaurant fray in the face of erratic and aggressive behaviour. Unsafe food lurks in Sheila's bedroom while unpaid bills threaten disconnection. Powers of attorney are new and unfamiliar territory for wholly unprepared loved ones.

The gulf between care staff and family was a part of Sarah Polley's script for the film “Away from Her” which broke fresh ground in 2006. The role of the care staff is the most innovative part of this script. It is a role, in its current configuration at least, that is portrayed as joyless and largely stripped of satisfaction. Health policy in hospitals is declared to be wrong.

In Peter Doran's production Carl Davies' clever design comprises symmetry with fragmentation. The sound (music composer James Clark) tips over into discordant buzz. “Belonging” also has a brilliant metaphor to fit a production of Wales. The action juxtaposes Llion Williams' Morys as a newly-wed with a bent figure of pained infirmity. Robbed of his adult experience his return to boyhood on a farm strips out his facility in the English language.

In another powerful metaphor the couple return to a clifftop visited in earlier times. “This isn't a life” Morys has said, but it is. With the word “cariad” Cler Stephens' Mags holds back. Florian Zeller shows that dementia hollows out love. “Belonging” would be the stronger if it had had the courage to let them do it. It has too much niceness to it; in theatre niceness is an inhibitor of greatness.

The tour continues at the Torch until 12th May and continues to Taliesin, Theatr Clwyd and the Borough, Abergavenny.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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