Writer: Emma Adams
Director: Lisa Cagnacci
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Economic forecasters warn us repeatedly that a growing aged population could soon become a burden too great for society to bear. Emma Adams’ new play takes place in 2046, in a world where the solution to this problem has been found in the drastic form of a lethal injection.
A tsunami has engulfed Britain, “incomers” arrive freely and an authoritarian regime is now in place, imposing laws banning certain words and any discussion of the weather. Children’s status in life is determined by a test on their 18th Birthday and “Utility Inspectors” call on the over-60’s to determine whether they are of diminished use or of no further use at all.
There may be an inclination to look for political messages in all of this, but very little emerges to be taken too seriously. In the early stages, it seems as if Adams is aiming for a drama about a dystopian nightmare, but the longer the play goes on, the more it becomes a black comedy with touches of absurdism. It rather resembles a re-working of Arsenic and Old Lace as we see batty old ladies, seemingly demure and refined, snorting amphetamines and getting up to all sorts of nasty things.
The cantankerous Norma (Marlene Sidaway) is 77, trying to pass herself off as 40 years younger and her home help Joy (a splendidly flustered Sadie Shimmin) is 59. Pushed to extremes by the need to survive, they have taken the kitchen knife to visiting children, keeping their remains in the larder to be used as tasty sandwich fillings. Their neighbour Helen (Cara Chase), 70 and on the cusp of extinction, is drawn in unwittingly to the evil doings.
Noah (Steve Hansell), oafish and not too bright, is a Utility Inspector about to visit the neighbourhood. He leaves the daughter on whom he dotes, Maya, in his car and she escapes into the clutches of the three ladies. Maya is one day short of her 18th Birthday but is written and played (by Milly Thomas) more like an overgrown 6-year-old, making the character irritating and unconvincing.
Uncertainty of tone, illogical plot details and inconsistent characterisations mar parts of the first act and it is only in the later stages, when the play has established itself as a black comedy, that it gets fully into its stride. Staged on a cramped living room set, Liza Cagnacci’s production occasionally suffers from imperfect comic timing and this affects the flow; hopefully these problems will be resolved as the run progresses.
Theatre 503 has recently established a senior writers group and, in a deliberate move, the actresses cast to play the three main characters are all in their 60s and 70s; this is consistent with the playwright’s strong feelings about the accurate representation of women. In the theatre at least, perhaps the future for the elderly is not as bleak as this play might suggest.
Runs until 2nd May| Photo Richard Davenport