4 stars out of 5
“Deeply affecting portrayal of an infinite love”
Deeply moving play about love and dementia
Jennifer Lunn’s poignant new play has already lived a chequered life. Having been commissioned and developed by Wales Millennium Centre in 2020, its expected run at the Edinburgh Fringe was stymied by Covid, with some consolation coming in the form of the Popcorn Writing Award for cancelled shows. Perhaps this hiatus may have been to the play’s eventual benefit, as Lunn’s script, directed here by Susie McKenna, is finely honed.
Es (Liz Crowther) and Flo (Doreene Blackstock) have lived as a couple ever since meeting at the Greenham Common peace protests in the early 1980s. Crowther and Blackstock portray a gloriously infinite love that is deeply affecting, and yet Es and Flo have somehow existed without placing a label on it, at least not publicly.
Es, a retired headteacher, feared career-crushing reprisals under Section 28, as well as the disapproval of her grown-up son, never seen but a constant phantom in the narrative. Flo attended Pride marches alone. One recognises the quiet torment of a couple who lived without the comparatively open attitude to sexuality that exists today.
Es’ memory is beginning to dwindle, an incremental decline skilfully woven into the scenes: a mislaid mug, some repeated lines of conversation. Flo knows this but is determined to shelter Es from external influences. The threat from the outside world manifests itself in the arrival of Beata (Adrianna Pavlovska), a paid carer who has been sent by Es’ son in lieu of his own personal visits (he’s much too busy with work). Flo’s distrust of Beata slowly melts, especially as she and Es develop a grandmotherly bond with Beata’s eight-year-old daughter Kasia (an extraordinary debut from young Mirella Siciliano).
The cast, under McKenna’s expert direction, evokes an unconventional family unit brimming with nuance, sentiment and pathos. The entire ensemble should be lauded for multiplying each beat of tension in what is essentially a quiet, undemonstrative play. Even the arrival of Catherine (Michelle McTernan), Es’ daughter-in-law – come to survey the situation and the deeds of the couple’s home – swiftly swings from melodrama into something much more human.
Libby Watson’s pseudo-realist set is a glorious vision of a couple’s love. Ornaments from Africa and Asia, and shelves of Lonely Planet books, speak volumes of a life well lived. And yet the sense of a dark monolith pressing down on the cosy home warns of what’s to come, fully realised in the play’s second act.
This powerful love story premiered in the same week company stage manager Antonia Collins died unexpectedly. It is to the cast and crew’s credit that this show took place, with all performances dedicated to Collins, who contributed so much to theatre in Wales as a stage manager and teacher.